Overview of Arrhythmia

Irregular heartbeats indicate heart rhythm problems, also called arrhythmias. These problems happen when the heart's natural pacemaker, called the sinoatrial (SA) node, is no longer in control of the electrical impulses that cause your heart to pump. This disrupts the heart's normal rhythm and makes it work less efficiently.

People may experience arrhythmias as palpitations, a "fluttering" or "racing" heart, or skipped heartbeats.

Causes: Irregular heartbeats can result from a number of different conditions. Some of these are lack of oxygen to the heart (often caused by atherosclerosis or narrowing of the coronary arteries), heart valve disease, or damage to the heart muscle.

Arrhythmia in Depth

There are several types of arrhythmias and heart rhythm disorders, including:

  • Atrial fibrillation: Atrial fibrillation affects the upper chambers of the heart. Typically the heart beats fast in an irregular rhythm.
  • Atrial flutter: Atrial flutter also affects the upper chambers of the heart. The heart beats very fast in a regular rhythm.
  • Heart block: Heart block is a disorder where the electricity does not correctly pass through the electrical pathways of the heart. This results in an irregular heart beat.
  • Long QT syndrome: Long QT syndrome is a disorder where the heart muscle cells take extra time to recover after each heartbeat.
  • Sick sinus syndrome: Sick sinus syndrome occurs when the normal pacemaker of the heart (the sinus node) does not work properly, resulting in irregular heartbeats.
  • Supraventricular tachycardia: Supraventricular tachycardia describes a group of fast heart rhythms that can sometimes occur but are not due to stress or exercise.
  • Sudden cardiac arrest: Sudden cardiac arrest is the sudden, abrupt loss of heart function in a person who may or may not have been diagnosed with heart disease. The electrical rhythm that controls the lower chambers of the heart becomes chaotic, and the heart begins to quiver instead of pumping blood.
  • Ventricular tachycardia: Ventricular tachycardia is a rapid heart rhythm originating in the ventricles of the heart.

Diagnostic Tests for Arrhythmia

Our heart rhythm specialists have the tools and experience to carefully and correctly diagnose all forms of irregular heart rhythm. We may ask you to wear a heart monitor that you can take with you to home and work.

  • Electrocardiogram (EKG)

    This test records the electrical activity of your heart. An EKG provides information about your heart's rate and rhythm. It also diagnoses ischemia (lack of oxygen to the heart muscle), heart attacks, and a variety of other heart conditions.

  • Stress Testing

    This test, also called a treadmill or exercise test, involves stressing the heart and monitoring the heart's reaction. A stress test helps evaluate the heart's capacity for work. The test can use exercise, medication, or both to induce stress.

  • Holter Monitor

    This device records the electrical activity of your heart as you go about your daily activities. You will wear the Holter monitor for 24 to 48 hours.

  • Ambulatory Telemetry and Event Monitors

    These devices are similar to a Holter monitor. They record your electrical activity for up to 30 days. They have a button you can push to indicate when you are experiencing heart symptoms.

  • Electrophysiology Study

    During this procedure, a heart rhythm doctor delivers small electrical impulses to the heart to help evaluate your heart rhythm. Your doctor will do this in the catheterization "cath" lab at the hospital.

  • Genetic Testing

    If arrhythmia runs in your family, it is important to tell your doctor. There are several irregular heart beat syndromes that have genetic factors, including Long QT syndrome and sudden cardiac arrest. Our Genetic Heart Disease Program can help you and your family members explore genetic testing and treatment options.

Treatments for Arrhythmia

We provide several safe and effective treatment options for patients with irregular heartbeat. We have successfully treated thousands of patients and have extensive experience with the newest pacemaker devices and heart ablation techniques.

  • Lifestyle Changes

    Changing some of your daily habits may improve your irregular heartbeat. These include reducing stress and cutting down on caffeine. Caffeine makes the heart work harder and can cause skipped heartbeats. Your doctor will tell you how much caffeine is safe for you.

  • Medications

    Heart rhythm medications, also called antiarrhythmics, control irregular heartbeats and maintain a normal heart rate and rhythm.

  • Cardioversion

    In this procedure, an electrical shock is delivered to the heart through the chest to stop certain very fast arrhythmias such as atrial fibrillation, supraventricular tachycardia, or atrial flutter. The patient is connected to an EKG (electrocardiogram) monitor, which is also connected to the defibrillator. The doctor delivers the electrical shock at a precise point during the EKG cycle to convert the rhythm to a normal one.

  • Heart Ablation

    This is a technique that ablates (destroys) a very small, targeted area of your heart muscle that is responsible for your irregular heart rhythm. Heart ablation restores a normal heartbeat. It is also called catheter ablation or radiofrequency ablation.

  • Stereotaxis Robotic Navigation

    This technology, also called “stereotaxis” for short, uses computer-controlled magnets to steer catheters through the patient’s blood vessels and heart chambers. The magnets are positioned on either side of the patient table. Doctors can use this technology with heart ablation to treat irregular heartbeats.

  • Pacemaker and ICD Insertion

    In these procedures, a heart rhythm doctor implants a small device below your collar bone. The devices correct heart rhythms that are too slow, too fast, or are out of synch.

  • MAZE Procedure

    The MAZE procedure is a surgery that treats an irregular heart rhythm called atrial fibrillation. The procedure is named for the maze-like network of scars that your heart surgeon creates on your heart muscle. The scars redirect the heart's electrical impulses, eliminating erratic signals and restoring the heart's normal rhythm and function.

  • GALAXY Procedure

    The GALAXY procedure (also known as "mini-MAZE") is similar to the MAZE procedure, but it is less invasive. It treats atrial fibrillation without the use of the heart-lung machine and with smaller, less painful incisions.

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