There are a variety of heart conditions besides the well-known heart attack. One of these heart conditions is arrhythmia, a problem with the rate or rhythm of your heartbeat. This can mean that your heart beats too rapidly, too slowly, or in a rhythm besides the typical “ba-bum ba-bum ba-bum” of your heart. While it’s normal for your heart rate to decrease while resting or beat rapidly while you’re working out, for your heart rate to change rapidly and without these reasons may be a cause for concern. Read on for a breakdown of arrhythmias, what causes them, some common symptoms, when to seek medical attention, and how they can be prevented and treated.
What causes Arrhythmias?
Your heart beats as it receives electrical signals that lead the heart to either expand or contract. Arrhythmias are caused by an interference to the electrical signals within the heart. Sometimes, there is a trigger patients can point to which has set off an arrhythmia, though the cause may also be unknown. Ultimately, though, when an arrhythmia is triggered, either the electrical signals are not travelling normally through the heart, or the nerve cells that produce the electrical signals are not working properly.
There are several risk factors that contribute to an individual’s risk for arrhythmia. For example, as age increases, changes in our hearts and the probability of other health conditions like high blood pressure, diabetes, and thyroid disease are more likely, contributing to the risk for arrhythmia. Alternatively, for those with congenital heart defects, arrhythmias are more likely to occur when you are young. Genetics and lifestyle factors like smoking, use of cocaine or amphetamines, and frequent alcohol intake can also contribute to a higher risk of arrhythmia. Certain medicines can also contribute to arrhythmias, so if you have a family history of heart trouble, be sure to inform your doctor before taking any new prescriptions.
When Should I Seek Medical Attention for a Possible Arrhythmia?
While an arrhythmia may not always be obvious, there are some telltale symptoms that are indicative of an arrhythmia occurrence. A slow, irregular, pounding, fluttering, or extremely fast heart beat are all indicators of arrhythmia. Additionally, you may feel a lot of anxiety, confusion, difficulty breathing, chest pain, tiredness, or dizziness. If you are having difficulty breathing or chest pain or are having symptoms like the above for several hours without relief, you should seek emergency medical care.
How Can I Prevent or Treat Arrhythmia?
You can lower your risk for arrhythmia by limiting your lifestyle risk factors, including limiting or eliminating smoking, illegal drug use, and excessive alcohol intake. Additionally, you can limit the likelihood of possible arrhythmia triggers by maintaining moderate blood sugar levels, avoiding stimulants like caffeine, staying well hydrated, and including enough potassium, magnesium, and calcium in your diet.
After arrhythmias occur, they are usually treated with medicines to slow or quicken the heartbeat, or with more intense medical procedures such as cardioversion, which uses external electrical shocks to restore a normal heart rhythm. After recovering from an arrhythmia, it is essential to visit a cardiologist to develop a plan to assess your risk factors, understand your triggers, and develop a plan in case an arrhythmia happens again.