An arrhythmia is an abnormal rhythm or rate of your heartbeat.
Your heartbeat is controlled by an internal electrical system. Electrical signals travel from the top of your heart to the bottom causing it to contract and pump blood. Any interruption or problem as the electrical signals travel is an arrhythmia.
There are several types of arrhythmia:
- Tachycardia is a heartbeat that is too fast
- Bradycardia is a heartbeat that is too slow
- Atrial fibrillation – rapid and irregular signals causing the heart to quiver (only partially contract)
Many patients have arrhythmias but experience no symptoms. Others can have dramatic symptoms including:
- A feeling of irregular heartbeats, skipped beats or palpitations
How are arrhythmias diagnosed?
Your consultant may use several different tests to diagnose and assess your arrhythmia.
- Electrocardiogram (ECG) - measures the electrical activity of the heart and gives important information about the rate and regularity of beats, the size and position of the chambers and any damage to the heart.
- Holter monitor – measures heart rhythm over a longer period (24 – 48 hours) to diagnose arrhythmias that come and go.
- Echocardiography – Ultrasound provides information about heart structure and mechanical function of your heart.
- Blood tests – measure substances in your blood that may indicate an arrhythmia.
- Electrophysiology – to diagnose a serious arrhythmia by electrically stimulating your heart to trigger arrhythmia. Your consultant will assess whether the anti-arrhythmia medication they have prescribed is working.
- Implantable loop recorder – records your heart rhythm continuously for up to 14 months
- Angiography - (or cardiac catheterisation) is a test that can detect blockages or narrowing in the coronary arteries
Some of these tests may be done while you are exercising as a means to stimulate an arrhythmia.
Treatment for arrhythmias can include anti-arrhythmia medication or a pacemaker. Procedures such as cardioversion electrically simulate your heart directly. In some cases surgery may be required.