An irregular heartbeat, also called an arrhythmia, is a condition in which the heart either beats too rapidly (more than 100 BPM), too sluggishly (less than 60 BPM) or has an erraticrhythm or pattern.Arrhythmias can cause a pounding in your chest that may feel painful or discomforting, although there are also some arrhythmias that have no symptoms at all. Many people living with arrhythmia don’t know they have it due to having no symptoms. If you experience any symptom of arrhythmia, it would be best to see a trusted cardiologist like Dr. Devinder Singh to know whether or not you should be concerned.
What causes an irregular heartbeat?
Your heart is composed of a complex system of different parts that work together to perform the functions of the organ. When some of these parts get damaged or disrupted, it can lead to a change in the usual pattern of your heartbeats. Some of the most common causes are the following:
- Medications and substances
There are a few drugs sold over the counter that may affect a person’s heart rate, including amphetamines, beta-blockers, and caffeine. Try to limit or avoid consumption of these drugs as they may be contributing to you having an irregular heartbeat.
- Coronary heart disease
Calcium and cholesterol deposits inside your coronary arteries can block or limit the movement of blood. This causes your cardiovascular system to have some irregular blood flow in certain areas, causing you to have an irregular heartbeat.
- High blood pressure
Those who have hypertension are much more at risk of having an arrhythmia, specifically an atrial fibrillation.
- Recent illness or injury damaging and altering heart muscle
If you get injured or have just had an illness affecting the heart, then your heart muscle may have been slightly affected causing an irregularity in your heart muscle. Because of this irregularity, your heartbeat may also start to follow an irregular rhythm.
What are the different types of arrhythmias?
An irregular heartbeat can be classified into specific types, namely:
- Atrial fibrillation
The most common type of arrhythmia is atrial fibrillation (AFib) which occurs in the atria – the upper chambers of our heart. This arrhythmia is caused by the misfire of multiple unstable electrical impulses in your heart, which causes your atria to quiver uncontrollably. An atrial fibrillation will cause you to have a faster yet erratic heart rate of up to 200 BPM.
- Ventricular fibrillation
In contrast to an atrial fibrillation, a ventricular fibrillation is an arrhythmia that starts from the lower chambers of the heart. This makes it a more dangerous and serious condition compared to an atrial fibrillation since the irregular heartbeat makes the ventricles unable to pump blood out of the heart, possibly causing a cardiac arrest. It is very important that a ventricular fibrillation is detected early since this can possibly lead to death if not treated as soon as possible.
- Atrial flutter
An increase in heart rate caused by a single electrical impulse that travels very fast in one of the heart’s atria. Although there is a heart rate increase, it follows a more regular rhythm compared to an atrial fibrillation.
Tachycardia is a general umbrella term for a resting heartbeat that is faster than normal. The normal heart rate of an adult person clocks in at 60 to 100 beats per minute (BPM). Once the rested heart rate exceeds 100 BPM, it is automatically characterized as tachycardia.
Tachycardia can be classified into one of three subtypes depending on the cause of the tachycardia:
- Ventricular tachycardia – starts in the heart’s ventricles, the lower chambers
- Supraventricular tachycardia – starts in the heart’s articles
- Sinus tachycardia – an increase in heart rate caused by being excited or sick, which usually goes back to normal after.
The opposite of tachycardia, bradycardia is a term used for heart rates that are slower than normal (less than 60 BPM). This is usually caused by a disruption on the travel of electrical impulses inside the heart.
Who are the most at risk of having an irregular heartbeat?
The most at-risk of arrhythmia are the following people:
- People who smoke or are around smokers frequently
- People who have diabetes
- People who are frequently stressed and irritable
- Overweight and obese people
- People who have had previous heart conditions or are related to someone with a history of heart conditions
- People who live an inactive lifestyle with very little to no physical activity
- People who follow a diet that is high in cholesterol, fats and other foods considered to be unhealthy
- People who drink a lot of alcohol
How are irregular heartbeats detected and diagnosed?
A cardiologist can utilize several tests to detect and diagnose the presence of an irregular heartbeat. The most common test is the electrocardiogram (ECG), a test that is administered using an ECG machine that documents the survey of electrical impulses. These electrical impulses show up on an ECG report, and cardiologists examine the pattern to see whether or not the patient has arrhythmia.
Another popular diagnostic test for an irregular heartbeat is through a coronary angiogram, which takes dynamic X-ray images of the heart. These images show whether or not your coronary arteries are narrowed or blocked, the presence of which indicates an irregular heartbeat.
Other tests that can be helpful in detecting or diagnosing arrhythmia are the echocardiogram, the Holter monitor or the most popular among the three, a good old stress test.
What are the treatment options for irregular heartbeats?
If you have tachycardia or bradycardia that still follow a regular rhythm, then lifestyle changes are usually enough to help bring your heart rates to a normal level.
For more serious arrhythmias though, one of the most common and effective treatment options is through the installation of an artificial pacemaker into the heart. A pacemaker is a special device that is implanted under the skin to help manage irregular heartbeats. It generates electrical impulses to help sync up your heartbeats and give your heart a normal heartrate (60 to 100 BPM) and a regular rhythm.
Cadence Heart Centre – Dr Devinder Singh
Mt Elizabeth Hospital, 3 Mount Elizabeth #14-13
Mt Elizabeth Medical Centre, Singapore 228510
(65) 8318 9884
(65) 6369 8789
(65) 6369 2789