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Heart rhythm problems are often caused when cells in the heart muscle start sending abnormal electrical signals. Normally, the heart beats about 60 to 100 times a minute. This is called "normal sinus rhythm" or "normal heartbeat." When the heart muscles start sending the wrong signals, the heartbeats may become irregular. Your doctor can detect an irregular heartbeat, which is called an arrhythmia [uh-rith -mee-uh].

Symptoms of an arrhythmia are different in each person. In some cases, arrhythmias may not cause any signs or symptoms. In fact, your doctor may first detect an arrhythmia during a routine examination. In other cases, symptoms of arrhythmias can include a pounding or rapid heartbeat, a heart “flutter,” dizziness or feeling lightheaded, or shortness of breath. In some cases, heart arrhythmias are harmless, but in other cases, they need to be treated.

Atrial fibrillation, also known as “A-fib,” is the most common heart rhythm disorder in the United States. Atrial fibrillation is very fast, irregular contraction of the upper parts of the heart, called the atria. A-fib increases the risk for heart disease and stroke, both of which are leading causes of death. It is estimated that more than 3.4 million Americans have A-fib.

Other kinds of abnormal heart rhythms include:

  • Ventricular fibrillation [ven-trik-yuh-ler fib bruh-ley-shuh n], also called “V-fib,” this is fast, irregular contraction of the lower parts of the heart
  • Tachycardia [tak-i-kahr-dee-uh], a rapid heartbeat
  • Ventricular tachycardia, also known as “V-tach,” is a fast heartbeat in the lower parts of the heart
  • Atrial flutter
  • Bradycardia [brad-i-kahr-dee-uh], a slow heartbeat

At Intermountain Healthcare, board-certified specialists diagnose and treat all types of heart rhythm problems. Your doctor will listen to your heartbeat to diagnose a heart rhythm problem and might also order tests such as electrocardiography [ih-lek-troh-kahr-dee-uh-graf-ee]. This test records the electrical signals in your heart. Treatment options for heart rhythm problems include medication, exercise, and surgery.

Things You Need to Know

Many things can lead to heart rhythm problems, including:

  • Blocked arteries in your heart
  • Untreated high blood pressure
  • Stress
  • Drug abuse
  • Diabetes
  • Sleep apnea (pauses in breathing while you sleep)

If detected early, heart rhythm disorders can be managed with medication and lifestyle changes.

When to See a Doctor

If you suddenly experience shortness of breath, weakness, chest pain, dizziness, lightheadedness, or fainting, you should contact your doctor right away. These symptoms can indicate a heart rhythm problem or a heart attack, which is a life-threatening emergency.