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What Is An Arrhythmia?
Any irregularity in heartbeat is termed as arrhythmia. Simply put, during an arrhythmia, your heart goes out of its normal rhythm and beats faster or slower. Depending on its type and severity, this condition can be harmless or may need immediate medical care.
Different Types Of Abnormal Heart Rhythms (ARRHYTHMIA):
The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute classifies arrhythmias into four major types as follows:
- Premature (Extra) Beats:
They are the most common type which do not have any symptoms and are harmless in most cases. The premature beats occurring in the heart’s upper chambers or atria are known as premature atrial contractions (PACs) whereas those which occur in the ventricles (heart’s lower chambers) are called premature ventricular contractions (PVCs). Sometimes, premature beats happen due to an underlying disease, over exercising, stress or excessive intake of nicotine or caffeine.
- Supraventricular Arrhythmias:
They are typically tachycardias (rapid heart beats) occurring in or above the atrioventricular node (a group of cells between the ventricles and atria). This type of arrhythmias are further subdivided into atrial flutter, paroxysmal supraventricular tachycardia (PSVT), atrial fibrillation and WPF syndrome.
- Ventricular Arrhythmias:
This type of arrhythmias begin in the lower chambers of the heart, the ventricles. Since they are lethal, they need immediate medical care. They are typically caused by a heart attack, coronary heart disease or by weakening of the heart muscles. They’re again classified into two types. The first type, Ventricular Tachycardia, is characterized by regular, fast beating of the ventricles that generally lasts for some seconds. However, if such beats last for more than a few seconds, it can lead to serious problems. The second type, Ventricular Fibrillation (or v-fib), happens when disorganized electrical signals cause the ventricles to quiver suddenly. This may lead to sudden cardiac arrest and even death in a few minutes. The v-fib should be treated immediately by giving an electric shock to the patient’s heart – a process called Defibrillation.
A Bradyarrhythmia is caused if the heart beat is too slow when compared to the normal rate. As a result, insufficient amount of blood reaches the brain and the individual passes out. In an average adult, any heart rate slower than 60 beats/minute is considered a bradyarrhythmia. It is generally caused by serious ailments such as cardiac arrests, under-active thyroid gland, imbalance of chemicals like potassium in blood or excessive use of anti-arrhythmia medications such as calcium channel blockers, beta blockers or digoxin.
Major Causes Of Arrhythmia:
In most cases, an arrhythmia occurs when the electrical signals that regulate the heartbeat get delayed or blocked. This happens when the nerve cells carrying these signals become dysfunctional. Arrhythmias are also caused if different parts of the heart simultaneously produce electrical signals, finally disrupting the heart beat. Some common reasons for such conditions are mentioned below:
- Uncontrolled consumption of alcohol, smoking, use of drugs (like cocaine), use of over-the-counter medicines and the intake of too much of caffeine or nicotine.
- When a person experiences emotional stress or anger, his heart pumps harder increasing the blood
pressure and releasing stress hormones into the blood flow. This weakens the heart over a period of time.
- A cardiac arrest or an other health condition spoils the heart’s electrical system which may lead to
arrhythmia. Few examples of such conditions include heart failure, high blood pressure, rheumatic heart
diseases, dysfunctional thyroid gland or coronary heart disease.
- Some types of arrhythmias, such as the Wolff-Parkinsoon-White syndrome are congenital (defects present at birth).