12:16am Tuesday 27 June 2017

Understanding Your Heart: The Types and Risk Factors of an Arrhythmia

Not too fast and not too slow is the name of the game when it comes to your heartbeat and if you are at either end of the scale and your heart is either racing or going too slow for your own good, you might have an arrhythmia problem.

Understanding the classic symptoms and also the types of arrhythmia that could impact on your heart health will help you to manage risk to a certain extent and at least work out when you might need to seek some medical help.

Here is an overview of the two main types of heart arrhythmia and some of the symptoms you might experience. Plus a general description of the various types of arrhythmia and some insights on the risks you might be facing.

Abnormal heartbeat

In basic terms, an arrhythmia, or dysrhythmia as it also sometimes called, is the term used to describe an abnormal or irregular heartbeat.

There are plenty of potential causes of arrhythmia including high blood pressure, changes to your heart muscle structure, valve disorders, and electrolyte imbalances, plus a range of other medical conditions that could result in an abnormal heartbeat.

It is not unusual for your heartbeat to vary as it will be slower when you are resting and beat faster when you are exercising, but in a healthy heart, you should return to a normal resting heart rate that is somewhere between 60 and 100 beats per minute.

Different types of arrhythmias

You will discover that doctors will classify an arrhythmia in two ways, firstly where they originate from and secondly by the speed of heart rate they subsequently cause.

The term used for a fast heartbeat is tachycardia and this will mean that you are likely to be showing a resting heart rate that is greater than the normal upper limit of 100 beats per minute.

If you are suffering from a slower than normal heartbeat this is referred to as bradycardia and will be defined when you are experiencing a resting heart rate that is below 60 beats per minute.

Regulating your heartbeat is one way to help with stroke prevention but it should also be noted that even if you are told that you have an arrhythmia, it doesn’t always mean that you have a heart disease.

Tachycardias explained

You either experience tachycardias in the atria or ventricles. Understanding the difference between the two will help if you are told that you have a problem in this area.

Tachycardias in the atria

Atrial fibrillation is caused by unpredictable electrical impulses in the atria and if left untreated it can result in serious complications such as stroke.

Other recognized tachycardias include atrial flutter, where the heartbeats are more rhythmic in nature, and supraventricular tachycardia, which is a relatively broad term used to describe a range of arrhythmias originating above the ventricles.

Tachycardias in the ventricles

Ventricular tachycardia is the term used to describe a rapid but regular heartbeat that can be traced back to abnormal electrical signals in the ventricles. This issue is that when you are experiencing such a rapid heart rate it doesn’t allow the ventricles to fill and contract sufficiently enough to pump enough blood around your body.

Ventricular fibrillation describes a scenario when you experience rapid and inconsistent electrical impulses which then cause the ventricles to quiver rather than concentrate on pumping the right amount of blood around your body.

Bradycardia explained

This is when you experience a slow heartbeat and if you are shown to have a slow heartbeat and although some people who are physically fit can enjoy a heartbeat lower than 60 beats per minute, the problem comes when your heart isn’t managing to pump enough blood around your body.

There are a number of different bradycardias including sick sinus syndrome and conduction block.

Your sinus node is responsible for regulating the pace of your heart, so if it is failing to deliver those impulses properly, this can lead to a slow heart rate or it can cause you to experience a rising and falling heartbeat.

A conduction block describes a scenario where there is a blockage in your heart’s electrical pathways close to the AV node.

Risk factors

There are many people who have certain arrhythmias and don’t actually suffer any further complications, but it is not something to leave to chance as you need to know the risk you are facing of developing serious conditions due to your irregular heartbeat.

You are at risk of stroke if your heart quivers and it is unable to pump blood efficiently, and inefficient pumping for a prolonged period could ultimately lead to heart failure.

If you notice any issue with your heartbeat or feel unexplainably dizzy or sweaty at certain times, these are just some of the reasons to find out whether the problem might be some form of arrhythmia.

Tom Cartwright is a student of medicine who enjoys writing health articles for the general public between his studies.


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