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What is Cardiac Arrhythmia?

illustration of a heart scan

According the Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention (CDC), atrial fibrillation (AFib or AF), which is the most common type of cardiac arrhythmia, is responsible for more than 750,000 hospital admissions and about 130,000 deaths every year in America. Additionally, the CDC says the number of AFib-related deaths has been soaring over the last two decades or so. In terms of economic impact, cardiac arrhythmia costs the US economy about $6 billion annually. For instance, a recent study published in the 2014 edition of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology found the annual medical costs for AFib patients are on average about $8,700 higher than the medical costs for individuals without atrial fibrillation. Below is some more information about cardiac arrhythmia.

An Overview of Cardiac Arrhythmia

Cardiac arrhythmia is essentially a problem with the rhythm or rate of the heartbeat, according to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI). This means that a heart arrhythmia can cause the heart to beat with an irregular rhythm, too fast (tachycardia), or too slow (bradycardia). During a cardiac arrhythmia, the heart may be unable to pump blood effectively. If this happens, it could lead to serious health problems due to damage of vital body organs such as the brain, lungs and heart. Fortunately, the NHLBI says most cardiac arrhythmias are harmless.

Types of Cardiac Arrhythmias

Cardiologists typically classify arrhythmias either by their origin (atria or ventricles) or by heart rate. According to the NHLBI, the four types of heart arrhythmias include:

Premature (extra) beats — These beats can occur in either the upper chambers of the heart (atria) or the lower chambers (ventricles). When they occur in the artia they are known as premature atrial contractions (PACs). When they occur in the ventricles, they are known as ventricular contractions (PVCs). Despite being the most common type of arrhythmia, premature beats are largely harmless, meaning treatment is usually unnecessary, especially in healthy individuals. What’s more, premature beats do not cause any symptoms in most cases. However, if symptoms occur, you may experience the feeling of a skipped heartbeat or fluttering in the chest.

Supraventricular arrhythmias – These fast heart rates (tachycardias) originate in the atria or atrioventricular (AV) node, the area between the atria and the ventricles. According to the NHLBI, the various types of supraventricular arrhythmias include atrial flutter, atrial fibrillation (AF), Wolff-Parkinson-White (WPW) syndrome and paroxysmal supraventricular tachycardia (PSVT).

Ventricular arrhythmias — As their name suggests, they originate from the lower chambers of the heart (ventricles) and they include ventricular tachycardia and ventricular fibrillation (v-fib). Unlike premature beats, ventricular arrhythmias can be life threatening and usually require urgent medical attention.

Bradyarrhythmias — This occurs when the heart rate drops below 60 beats per minute. Since this can prevent enough blood from reaching vital organs such as the brain, it is a potentially life threatening condition.

Risk Factors

Some of the risk factors associated with the aforementioned types of cardiac arrhythmia include poor heart health, heart disease, high blood pressure, overactive thyroid gland (hyperthyroidism), underactive thyroid gland (hypothyroidism), chronic kidney disease and European ancestry, among others.

Symptoms

Some of the common symptoms of cardiac arrhythmia include chest pain, palpitations, shortness of breath and fainting, among others.

Diagnosis

To diagnose arrhythmia, your doctor will consider your medical history, as well as test for conditions that may trigger heart arrhythmia, such as thyroid disorders and heart disease. Additionally, your doctor may use heart monitoring equipment in order to test for arrhythmia, utilizing devices such as a cardiac event monitor, holter monitor or electrocardiogram (ECG).

 

This site is not designed to and does not provide medical advice, professional diagnosis, opinion, treatment or services to you or to any other individuals. Through this site and links to other sites, CMS provides general information for educational purposes only. The information provided in this site, or through links to other sites, is not a substitute for medical or professional care.

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