Heart Arrhythmia: What is it & How Does it Occur?

This great question comes from our friend Vicki on Twitter! Thanks, Vicki!

Steph Stethoscope Dr. Smarty

I’ll take this question, Doc!

A heart arrhythmia is an irregular heartbeat–when the rhythm of the heart is off. You see, in order for your heart to beat, electrical impulses get sent to the heart to make it contract. When a heart has arrhythmia, the heart may beat too fast, too slow or inconsistently. There are 4 different kinds:

  • Tachycardia When the heart beats too fast
  • Bradycardia When the heart beats too slowly
  • Premature Contraction When the heart beats too early
  • Fibrillation When the heart beats too irregularly

Most likely, you have experienced heart arrhythmia in your lifetime. Think of a time when you felt your heart flutter, or start to race, maybe when you were scared or excited or nervous. These are completely normal arrhythmias that we all experience! However, if a heartbeat is consistently irregular due to a heart that is particularly weakened or damaged for one reason or another, the symptoms resulting from it may be troublesome.

In most arrhythmia cases, the person will experience little to no symptoms. In fact, most arrhythmias are detected by a doctor during a medical exam rather than from a person noticing something is off. However, some of the most common symptoms are:

  • Dizziness
  • Fainting or near-fainting
  • Chest pain (also called angina)
  • Lightheadedness
  • Palpitations
  • Shortness of breath

But why does heart arrhythmia occur? There are plenty of factors that are known to contribute to the development of an irregular heartbeat–for example, good old fashioned genetics–but recently, scientists and researchers have discovered that, on the fundamental scale, it all boils down to a calcium overload in the heart.

If your doctor detects a heart arrhythmia, remember it is important to follow the instructions they have given you in order to avoid any complications, both minor and serious. With proper control and treatment of the issue, people with heart arrhythmias can live perfectly normal lives.┬áThe first step is, as always, understanding just what’s going on in there!

If you would like to read more Ask Dr. Smarty posts, or to ask the doc a question yourself, head on over here, or tweet your questions to @AskDrSmarty!

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