Heart Rhythm Disorders | UpBeat.org (2023)

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Millions of people experience irregular or abnormal heartbeats, called arrhythmias, at some point in their lives. Most of the time, they are harmless and happen in healthy people free of heart disease. However, some abnormal heart rhythms can be serious or even deadly. Having other types of heart disease can also increase the risk of arrhythmias.

Heart Rhythm Disorders | UpBeat.org (1)

Heart rhythm disorders can be divided into three broad categories, electrical, circulatory, and structural. Cardiologists are physicians who diagnose and treat disorders of the heart. Electrophysiology is a subspecialty branch of cardiology. An electrophysiologist (EP) is highly trained in the management of electrical properties of the heart, and is the most knowledgeable doctor to deal with the many often complex options for treating heart beat, or heart rhythm, disorders.


Abnormal heart rhythms (arrhythmias) are caused by problems with the electrical system that regulates the steady heartbeat. The heart rate may be too slow or too fast; it may stay steady or become chaotic (irregular and disorganized). Some arrhythmias are very dangerous and cause sudden cardiac death, while others may be bothersome but not life threatening.

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High Blood Pressure and coronary artery disease (causing blockages in the pipes (arteries) that supply blood to the heart) are the main causes of blood vessel disorders. They can result in a stroke or heart attack, which can be devastating. Fortunately, there are many preventative and treatment options.

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Heart muscle disease (cardiomyopathy) and congenital abnormalities (problems in the development of the heart and blood vessels which are present from birth) are two problems that can damage the heart muscle or valves.

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(Video) Treating heart rhythm disorders

Pediatrics and Congenital Heart Disease

This section is for pediatric patients and families living with heart rhythm disorders and heart rhythm disorders related to congenital heart disease (CHD).

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Assess Your AFib Risk

Atrial fibrillation (AFib) is the most common abnormal heart rhythm. In a normal heart, the four chambers of the heart beat in a steady, rhythmic pattern. With AFib, the atria (upper chambers of the heart) fibrillate (quiver or twitch quickly) and create an irregular rhythm.

Learn Your Risk for AFib

Atrial Fibrillation (AFib)

You or your loved one may have been diagnosed with Atrial Fibrillation (AFib). You should know that you are not alone. There are many people around the world with this condition. It is the most common heart rhythm condition.

Learn More About Atrial Fibrillation (AFib)

Atrial Flutter (AFL)

Atrial flutter is similar to AFib because it also occurs in the atria or upper chambers of the heart and can result in a fast heartbeat. However, AFL tends to be an organized rhythm that is caused by an electrical wave that circulates very rapidly in the atrium, about 300 times a minute. This can lead to a very fast, but regular, heartbeat. Like AFib, the atria are not able to beat well and this results in an increased risk of a stroke.

Learn More About Atrial Flutter (AFL)

Heart Attack (Myocardial Infarction)

When arteries become so clogged that the flow of blood to the heart is reduced or stopped, the lack of oxygen can damage or kill the heart muscle, causing a heart attack. Knowing the symptoms of a heart attack and getting immediate emergency treatment can limit or prevent heart muscle damage.

Learn More About Heart Attack (Myocardial Infarction)

Heart Block

Heart block occurs when electrical signals from the upper chambers of the heart (atria) cannot travel to the lower chambers (ventricles). The ventricles then beat too slowly, decreasing the amount of oxygen that gets to the body and brain. This causes a slow pulse and can result in a lack of energy, feeling lightheaded or fainting. Heart block can be a cause of syncope. Pacemakers are commonly used to treat heart block.

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Heart Failure (HF)

Heart failure (HF), previously called congestive heart failure, is a serious condition most commonly caused by weak pumping of the heart muscle. Poor heart pumping function can cause fatigue, leg swelling, and difficulty breathing, particularly with exertion. Lifestyle changes, medication, pacemakers, defibrillators and even open heart surgery can be used to treat heart failure.

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(Video) Heart Rhythm Webinar Series - Genetics and Rhythm disorders

Heart Valve Problems

Heart valve problems can be inherited or develop on their own, affecting the heart's ability to push blood efficiently from chamber to chamber, and out to the rest of the body. Medication, surgery, and the placement of new valves using catheters (thin tubes placed in the vessels and heart) are treatment options.

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Long QT Syndrome

Long QT syndrome is a rare genetic disorder that can cause a chaotic, fast heart rhythm. This fast heart rhythm can lead to fainting or seizures. In some instances, a prolonged episode of this chaotic heart rhythm can lead to sudden death.

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Premature Contractions

Extra, early, or "skipped" beats are the most common cause of irregular heart rhythms. These can start in the upper or lower chambers of the heart (atrial or ventricular premature contractions). They may or may not cause symptoms of palpitations, “fluttering”, or lightheadedness. Often they require no treatment, but if they are frequent or highly symptomatic a medical and cardiac evaluation should be undertaken.

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Sick Sinus Syndrome (SSS)

Sick sinus syndrome is not a disease, but a group of signs or symptoms that show that the heart's natural electrical pacemaker, the sinus node, is not working properly. In SSS, the heart rate can alternate between slow (bradycardia) and fast (tachycardia), often in combination with atrial fibrillation or atrial flutter. Treatment of SSS usually involves implanting a pacemaker, often along with medication.

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Sinus Tachycardia

A harmless faster rhythm, sinus tachycardia is a normal increase in heart rate that happens with fever, excitement, and exercise. There is no need for treatment, except in cases when it is caused by an underlying problem, such as anemia (a low blood count) or hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid gland), or rarely, happens frequently and without a clear cause (inappropriate sinus tachycardia).

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(Video) Diagnosing and managing heart rhythm disorders: Expert Q&A

Strokes (brain attacks), although not true heart disorders, are caused by blockage or reduced blood flow to the brain. While some strokes occur when a blood vessel bursts, most happen due to clogged or blocked vessels to the brain, in the same way clogged vessels in the heart can cause a heart attack. Abnormal heart rhythms such as atrial fibrillation and atrial flutter can lead to the formation of blood clots in the heart. Such blood clots can break off and travel to the brain, block a vessel and cause a stroke. All strokes pose serious health threats.

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Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA)

Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA) occurs when the heart stops beating, abruptly and without warning

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Supraventricular Tachycardia (SVT)

Supraventricular tachycardia, most commonly referred to as SVT includes multiple different forms all with similar symptoms. The most common types of SVT are: atrioventricular nodal reentrant tachycardia (AVNRT), atrioventricular reentrant tachycardia (AVRT) and atrial tachycardia (AT).

Learn More About Supraventricular Tachycardia (SVT)

Ventricular Fibrillation (VF)

Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA) caused by ventricular fibrillation (VF) is the cause of half of all heart related deaths. VF is sudden, happens without warning, and stops the heart from working. In VF, the heartbeat is fast and chaotic, causing the lower heart chambers(ventricles) to lose their ability to pump effectively. This results in a drop in blood pressure and loss of consciousness. If normal rhythm is not restored it will result in death. . Sometimes, a heart attack (blockage of the heart pipes/arteries) can lead to VF. Bystander CPR can provide circulation and improve the survival rates in people with SCA until defibrillation is performed to restore the normal rhythm. Patients at risk for VF and survivors of SCA can be treated with implantable cardiac defibrillators (ICDs) to provide life-saving prompt treatment.

Learn More About Ventricular Fibrillation (VF)

Ventricular Tachycardia (VT)

Ventricular tachycardia is a rapid heart rhythm that occurs in the lower chambers or ventricles of the heart. It often occurs in people with underlying heart disease like coronary artery disease, heart failure, or history of a previous heart attack. In these situations, it can be a life-threatening arrhythmia which can result in fainting or death if it persists and is untreated. Ventricular tachycardia (VT) can also happen in people with normal hearts and is called idiopathic VT. Because VT is often associated with symptoms and in many people can lead to ventricular fibrillation (a dangerously fast and disorganized heartbeat), it is a serious condition that needs aggressive treatment and follow up.

Learn More About Ventricular Tachycardia (VT)

(Video) Electrophysiology - Treatment for Heart Rhythm Disorders

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Pediatrics and Congenital Heart Disease (CHD) This section is for pediatric patients and families living with heart rhythm disorders and heart rhythm disorders related to congenital heart disease (CHD). Early Warning Signs If you are experiencing a racing, pounding, rumbling or flopping feeling in your chest or if you have been fainting, having repeated dizzy spells, feeling lightheaded or you are extremely fatigued, it's time to see a doctor to discuss your heart health. Common Treatments Learning about the underlying cause of any heart rhythm disorder provides the basis for selecting the best treatment plan. Information and knowledge about care options, and their risks and benefits help you work with your health care provider to make the best choices. Lifestyle Since other heart disorders increase the risk of developing abnormal heart rhythms, lifestyle changes often are recommended. Living a “heart healthy” lifestyle can ease the symptoms experienced with heart rhythm disorders and other heart disorders, and can be beneficial to overall patient health. The Normal Heart The heart is a fist-sized muscle that pumps blood through the body 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, without rest. The normal heart is made up of four parts: two atria on the top of the heart (right atrium and left atrium), and two ventricles (right ventricle and left ventricle) which are the muscular chambers on the bottom of the heart that provide the major power to pump blood.
(Video) Treatment Advances for Heart Rhythm Disorders


What is the most common cause of heart rhythm disorders? ›

Coronary artery disease, other heart problems and previous heart surgery. Narrowed heart arteries, a heart attack, abnormal heart valves, prior heart surgery, heart failure, cardiomyopathy and other heart damage are risk factors for almost any kind of arrhythmia.

How do you fix a heart rhythm disorder? ›

Treatment for heart arrhythmias may include medications, therapies such as vagal maneuvers, cardioversion, catheter procedures or heart surgery.
Pacemakers, defibrillator
  1. Catheter ablation. ...
  2. Pacemaker. ...
  3. Implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD). ...
  4. Maze procedure. ...
  5. Coronary bypass surgery.
30 Apr 2022

What are the 4 heart rhythms? ›

Sinus rhythm, sinus bradycardia, sinus tachycardia and sinus arrhythmia are all normal heart rhythms where the electrical impulses travel in a normal way through the heart.

What is the most common abnormal heart rhythm? ›

Atrial fibrillation is the most common irregular, often fast heart rhythm. Supraventricular tachycardia (SVT) is a very fast heart rhythm. There are different types of SVT. Most are due to electrical impulses not travelling normally from the top chambers of the heart to the bottom chambers of the heart.

Is heart rhythm disorder curable? ›

While medications are used to control abnormal heart rhythms, ablation procedures can cure some types of arrhythmia completely. Once treated, whether through ablation or ongoing medications, most patients with a heart rhythm issue can return to their normal activity levels.

Can stress cause heart rhythm problems? ›

Stress can contribute to heart rhythm disorders (arrhythmias) such as atrial fibrillation. Some studies suggest that stress and mental health issues may cause your atrial fibrillation symptoms to worsen. High levels of stress may also be linked to other health problems.

How do I get my heart rhythm back to normal? ›

Cardioversion is a medical procedure that uses quick, low-energy shocks to restore a regular heart rhythm. It's a treatment for certain types of irregular heartbeats (arrhythmias), including atrial fibrillation (A-fib). Sometimes cardioversion is done using medications.

How can I fix my heart rhythm naturally? ›

Exercise regularly

Exercise can improve overall cardiovascular health and help restore the heart's natural rhythm. It can also help reduce stress and anxiety. Cardiovascular exercise helps strengthen the heart, which can prevent or reduce palpitations.

Can heart rhythm disorders come and go? ›

Arrhythmias can range from being just single extra heartbeats, to longer episodes that come and go, to abnormal rhythms that are permanent. Many arrhythmias are not dangerous and are treated because of the symptoms they cause.

What are the 5 fatal heart rhythms? ›

The most common types of abnormal heart rhythms are:
  • Tachycardia. Tachycardia means that your heart is beating too fast. ...
  • Atrial fibrillation. This disorganized heart rhythm occurs in the upper chambers of the heart. ...
  • Atrial flutter. ...
  • Bradycardia. ...
  • Ventricular fibrillation. ...
  • Premature contractions.

What heart rhythm is normal? ›

A normal resting heart rate for adults ranges from 60 to 100 beats per minute. Generally, a lower heart rate at rest implies more efficient heart function and better cardiovascular fitness. For example, a well-trained athlete might have a normal resting heart rate closer to 40 beats per minute.

What are the 3 lethal heart rhythms? ›

You will need to be able to recognize the four lethal rhythms. Asystole, Ventricle Tachycardia (VT), Ventricle Fibrillation (VF), and Polymorphic Ventricle Tachycardia (Torsade de pointes).

Can you live with abnormal heart rhythm? ›

Most people with an abnormal heart rhythm can lead a normal life if it is properly diagnosed. The main types of arrhythmia are: atrial fibrillation (AF) – this is the most common type, where the heart beats irregularly and faster than normal. supraventricular tachycardia – episodes of abnormally fast heart rate at rest.

How do you test for abnormal heart rhythm? ›

Electrocardiogram (ECG)

An ECG is a test that records your heart's rhythm and electrical activity. It's usually carried out in a hospital or GP surgery, takes about 5 minutes, and is painless.

What controls the rhythm of the heart? ›

The impulse starts in a small bundle of specialized cells located in the right atrium, called the SA node. The electrical activity spreads through the walls of the atria and causes them to contract. This forces blood into the ventricles. The SA node sets the rate and rhythm of your heartbeat.

Can anxiety make your heart irregular? ›

When your heart suddenly feels as though it's not beating normally, it can cause significant fear and discomfort. But anxiety itself can cause your heart to skip beats or feel like it's beating too hard or too irregularly. Then, this fear can lead you to experience an irregular heartbeat.

Can anxiety damage your heart? ›

The Effect of Anxiety on the Heart

Rapid heart rate (tachycardia) – In serious cases, can interfere with normal heart function and increase the risk of sudden cardiac arrest. Increased blood pressure – If chronic, can lead to coronary disease, weakening of the heart muscle, and heart failure.

What heart conditions require a pacemaker? ›

The most common reason people get a pacemaker is their heart beats too slowly (called bradycardia), or it pauses, causing fainting spells or other symptoms. In some cases, the pacemaker may also be used to prevent or treat a heartbeat that is too fast (tachycardia) or irregular.

Can an irregular heart beat correct itself? ›

This arrhythmia is a fast arrhythmia from the lower chambers of the heart. It can be very brief and resolve on its own, but if it persists, it is serious, and can cause cardiac arrest.

What supplements are good for heart rhythm? ›

8 heart health supplements to take – and one to avoid
  • Multivitamin & mineral. Vitamins and minerals taken in appropriate doses may aid in lowering heart disease risk. ...
  • Coenzyme Q10 (Co Q10) Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) is a substance similar to a vitamin. ...
  • Fiber. ...
  • Omega-3 fatty acids. ...
  • Magnesium. ...
  • L-Carnitine. ...
  • Green tea. ...
  • Garlic.
30 Jan 2018

Why do I keep getting irregular heart beat? ›

Things like caffeine, alcohol and stress can cause small, temporary arrhythmias like PVCs. But there are factors that can cause permanent arrhythmias, too. Your arteries are highways for oxygen and nutrients. However, fat, cholesterol and calcium can build plaques in the arteries, causing coronary artery disease.

Which heart rhythm can cause death? ›

Without immediate treatment, ventricular fibrillation can cause death within minutes. The condition's rapid, erratic heartbeats cause the heart to abruptly stop pumping blood to the body.

Is an irregular heartbeat a death sentence? ›

The AHA notes that an episode of AFib rarely causes death. However, these episodes can contribute to you experiencing other complications, such as stroke and heart failure, that can lead to death. In short, it's possible for AFib to affect your lifespan. It represents a dysfunction in the heart that must be addressed.

What are the 2 most common arrhythmias? ›

Premature ventricular contractions (PVCs). These are among the most common arrhythmias. They're the "skipped heartbeat" that many of us feel sometimes. Ventricular tachycardia (V-tach).

Can your heart rhythm change? ›

Changes in Heart Rhythms Are Usually Harmless

Our heart rate adapts to our body's need for energy throughout the day, whether it's for walking up the stairs or a bout of strenuous exercise. These tempo changes based on physical activity are perfectly normal.

What is a death rhythm? ›

Agonal rhythm is an abnormally slow heart rhythm that occurs near the end of life. It can be difficult thinking about the death of a loved one. But learning more about what happens in the final moments of life might make their passing a little less painful. Request an Appointment.

How do you slow down an irregular heartbeat? ›

Lifestyle and home remedies
  1. Reduce stress. Try relaxation techniques, such as meditation, yoga or deep breathing.
  2. Avoid stimulants. Caffeine, nicotine, some cold medicines and energy drinks can make the heart beat too fast or irregularly.
  3. Avoid illegal drugs.
11 Mar 2022

What arrhythmia causes most cardiac arrests? ›

Ventricular fibrillation is a type of arrhythmia and is the most common cause of cardiac arrest. Ventricular fibrillation is a rapid heartbeat in the heart's ventricle, which causes the heart to tremble instead of normally pumping blood.

What nerve controls rhythm? ›

Parasympathetic control of the heart via the vagus nerve is the primary mechanism that regulates beat-to-beat control of heart rate. Additionally, the vagus nerve exerts significant effects at the AV node, as well as effects on both atrial and ventricular myocardium.

What is the root cause of arrhythmia? ›

Age. As we age, changes in our heart such as scarring and the effects of other chronic conditions can raise the risk of arrhythmias. Older adults are also more likely to have health conditions, such as high blood pressure, heart failure, diabetes, and thyroid disease, that can lead to arrhythmias.

How do I get my irregular heartbeat back to normal? ›

What to Do
  1. Avoiding caffeine.
  2. Getting enough sleep.
  3. Avoiding or cutting back on alcohol.
  4. Stopping smoking.
  5. Staying away from stimulant drugs, including cold medicines that contain pseudoephedrine.
  6. Finding ways to relax and manage stress.
20 Aug 2022

What foods to avoid if you have arrhythmia? ›

Foods to avoid for AFib
  • Caffeine and energy drinks.
  • Alcohol. A 2014 study found that even moderate alcohol intake could be a risk factor for AFib. ...
  • Red meat.
  • Processed foods. Processed foods, such as ready meals or sausages, tend to have large quantities of salt and preservatives. ...
  • Sugary foods and drinks.
  • Salt.
30 Jun 2020

Can heart arrhythmia go away? ›

Can a Heart Arrhythmia ever just go away? Yes. People can have only one episode. This can be caused by pericarditis (membrane or sac around your heart is inflamed), alcohol or other drugs, acute illness, or electrolyte abnormalities.

What drugs cause cardiac arrhythmia? ›

Adults who use methamphetamines, cocaine, opiates or cannabis (marijuana) may have a 35% to 86% higher risk of developing an irregular heartbeat known as atrial fibrillation or AFib, which can lead to serious heart-related complications, according to an analysis of 10 years of medical data.

How serious is irregular heartbeat? ›

In many cases, these irregular heartbeats are harmless and will resolve on their own. But when they occur persistently, they can be serious. When your heart's rhythm is disrupted, it isn't pumping oxygenated blood efficiently, which can cause harm to the heart and the rest of the body.

What is the best medication for irregular heartbeat? ›

There are 4 main types of medicines for treating irregular heartbeats:
  • sodium channel blockers like flecainide.
  • beta blockers like propranolol and atenolol.
  • potassium blockers like sotalol and amiodarone.
  • calcium channel blockers like verapamil.

What is the best natural treatment for irregular heartbeat? ›

Arrhythmias and other heart conditions are associated with oxidant stress and inflammation. Antioxidants like vitamin C and vitamin E appear to be effective in reducing these. You can use vitamin C to treat colds, the flu, and even cancer, and it can also help with arrhythmia.


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3. Cardiac rhythm disturbances: Symptoms
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5. Ask Mayo Clinic Health System – Heart Rhythm Disorders
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