Palpitations or irregular-feeling
lightheadedness, and fainting spells.
cases there may be no symptoms.
When To Call Your Doctor
an ambulance if you experience severe chest pain, shortness of
breath, or prolonged palpitations.
an ambulance if someone loses consciousness. If heartbeat or
breathing has stopped, perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation
What Are They?
Arrhythmias are disturbances in the normal rhythm
of the heartbeat. An occasional palpitation or fluttering is
usually not serious, but a persistent arrhythmia may be life-threatening.
There are many different types of arrhythmias.
The heart may beat too rapidly (tachycardia) or too slowly (bradycardia),
or it may beat irregularly. Atrial fibrillation and atrial flutter
are common arrhythmias, which lead to an irregular and sometimes
rapid heart rate. These atrial arrhythmias may interfere with
the hearts ability to pump blood properly from its upper
chambers (atria). The atria may not always empty completely,
and blood remaining there too long may stagnate and clot. Such
clots may travel to other parts of the body, where they may cause
blockages in the blood vessels that lead to the limbs, brain,
In ventricular fibrillation, the lower chambers
of the heart (ventricles) quiver feebly instead of contracting
powerfully. This is the most severe type of arrhythmia, causing
death in minutes unless medical assistance is obtained immediately.
What Causes Them?
damage the heart or its valves, such as endocarditis, myocarditis,
and rheumatic fever.
the thyroid gland.
Chest- or heart-surgery
patients may develop an arrhythmia soon after the operation.
or depletion of potassium or other electrolytes.
including digitalis, stimulants, and diuretics, as well as overdoses
of cocaine, marijuana, or antidepressants.
Injury to the
heart due to a heart attack.
with smoking, excess consumption of caffeine or alcohol, advancing
age, high blood pressure, kidney disease, and stress.
Engage in regular
aerobic exercise. Avoid cigarettes, illegal drugs, and excessive
amounts of alcohol and caffeine. Try to reduce emotional stress.
instructions for prescription drugs.
(ECG) is performed to monitor the electrical impulses that control
heartbeat; Holter monitoring (portable ECG) may be required for
a brief period (usually 24 hours).
and blood tests.
and angiography (injection of a contrast material into an artery
to produce a clear x-ray image of the blood vessels).
(use of ultrasound to map the hearts movements and structure).
study (a sophisticated electrical test of the heart involving
electrical monitoring and stimulation inside the heart) may be
drugs (such as a beta-blockers, calcium channel blockers, amiodarone,
or procainamide) may be prescribed.
(such as aspirin or warfarin) may be prescribed to prevent the
formation of blood clots, particularly for atrial arrhythmias.
drug that slows the response of the ventricles to the rapid impulses
coming from the atria) may be prescribed for those with atrial
jolt of electricity applied to the chest by an emergency medical
teammay restore normal heart rhythm if administered within
a few minutes of the onset of ventricular fibrillation. An electric
shock (cardioversion) may also be administered under nonemergency
conditions to correct atrial arrhythmias.
may be implanted in the chest if the heart rate is dangerously
procedure (destruction of heart tissue responsible for the arrhythmia)
may be recommended. It can often be performed during an electrophysiology
be done to interrupt an abnormal electrical pathway in the heart,
replace a damaged heart valve, or bypass blocked coronary arteries.
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