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Heart arrhythmia

What is a heart arrhythmia?

In arrhythmia, the heart beat unusually does not originate in the sinus node, which regulates heart beat. In practice, arrhythmia means an abnormal rhythm of the heart.

How to identify arrhythmia?

The most common form of arrhythmia is additional heart beats. While we all have them, everyone feels them slightly differently. They can feel like the heart is fluttering, vibrating or jumping. They make some people feel like they cannot breathe or that the heart is skipping beats. Then again, not everybody even notices additional heart beats. The most common form of arrhythmia in adults is atrial fibrillation, where the heart rate is very irregular and varies a great deal. The most important aspect of identifying arrhythmia is learning to check one’s pulse. The heart should beat evenly and regularly. However, we must bear in mind that the normal heart rate varies according to the individual and that predisposition to arrhythmia increases with age.

ECG is the first step of treatment

Arrhythmia is primarily examined by first taking an ECG. The ECG should be taken when the arrhythmia is active. Because arrhythmia bouts are usually short, there may not be time to take an ECG during a bout. Examinations are then continued in the form of long‑term monitoring, where a small, portable device records your every heart beat on a memory card. This way, arrhythmia can be recorded for diagnosis for certain.

How is arrhythmia treated?

Additional heart beats rarely need actual treatment, if the heart is otherwise healthy. The primary form of treatment is eliminating habits which cause arrhythmia. Stress, not sleeping and excessive coffee consumption promote arrhythmia.

If arrhythmia requires medication, it is primarily treated with beta blockers before actual arrhythmia medication. Pharmacotherapy may be continuous, in which case the drugs prevent and alleviate arrhythmia. Invasive treatment can be administered if necessary in order to remove the potential source of arrhythmia by burning (ablation). A defibrillator may have to be implanted to treat severe arrhythmia. In arrhythmia, the heart rate may also be too slow, causing nausea, dizziness, fatigue or reduced performance. If the heart rate decreases suddenly, the patient may lose consciousness. The primary treatment for a slow heart rate is ruling out and targeting any external triggers, for example discontinued/changed medication, and diagnosing and treating thyroid insufficiency. If cardiac, a slow heart rate must often be treated with a pacemaker.

When to see a doctor?

If arrhythmia is new to you, it is good to see a doctor to have your condition examined. In the case of continuous arrhythmia, always go to the emergency room. Seeing a doctor is a good idea just for the purpose of getting an ECG and identifying the type of the problem. It is always important to examine the structural condition of the heart (for any indications of coronary artery disease, valvular heart disease or heart muscle disease). This will allow finding the optimally suitable treatment methods in a timely fashion.