What is Abnormal Heart Rhythms?
Not all abnormal heart rhythms (arrhythmias) are dangerous. In fact, an abnormal heartbeat is a common occurence.
What are the Symptoms of Abnormal Heart Rhythms?
If your heart rate is too fast (tachycardia), too slow (bradycardia) or very irregular, the heart won’t work as an efficient pump and deliver all the blood the body needs.
Symptoms may be similar whatever the abnormal heart rhythm is. Common symptoms include:
Feeling faint: an inefficient pump causes low blood pressure Palpitations: your heartbeat may feel fluttery or irregular, or you may detect a missed or skipped beat.
Shortness of breath and swollen ankles – signs that the heart is failing, it can no longer cope with pumping at a very fast rate.
Chest pain: in extreme situations, the heart may beat so fast it interferes with the blood supply to the heart muscle and brain, and may result in a heart attack or brain damage.
What are the Causes of Abnormal Heart Rhythms?
Most people have an occasional extra heartbeat, usually without noticing it. Excessive stress, lack of sleep and stimulants, such as caffeine and nicotine, increase the risk of arrhythmias, as can medications, such as decongestants and alcohol.
However, abnormal heart rhythms can also signal a major heart problem, such as an abnormality of the heart muscles, valves or electrical conducting system. It can also be a sign that damage has been done to the heart, for example, after a heart attack.
The rate at which the heart beats is important because it determines how much blood, oxygen and other vital nutrients are delivered around the body. If you run, for example, you need more oxygen and energy, so your heart rate must increase.
Traditional Medical Treatments for Abnormal Heart Rhythms
Treatment of abnormal heart rhythms depends on the cause. An underlying disease, such as thyroid problems, may need to be treated.
A GP may suggest simple steps to rule out triggers, such as stress, but most people in the UK can expect to be assessed by a specialised cardiac unit, so the exact arrhythmia can be pinpointed.
A variety of drugs are used to control abnormal heart rhythms, while in some cases a pacemaker may need to be fitted.
Some of the most dangerous arrhythmias are those that affect the ventricles, the large muscular chambers of the heart. These can cause sudden death in someone who appeared previously fit and well.
Pacemakers are used to treat this sort of dangerous fast heart rhythm. They act by sensing the abnormal electrical stimuli in the heart and overriding them, sometimes by delivering a tiny electrical shock within the heart.
Occasionally, surgery is needed to cut abnormal nerve wiring within the heart.
Complementary/Alternative Treatments for Abnormal Heart Rhythms
Heart diseases can frequently cause an abnormal rhythm to the heart beat; this may manifest itself as palpitations, an irregular heart beat, or dropped beats. Acupuncture can correct a small number of these arrhythmias. In established atrial fibrillation (irregular heart beats), acupuncture affects a small percentage of cases, some 1.5 per cent, although in recently acquired arrhythmias, acupuncture can be effective in up to 70 per cent of cases.