Have You Got Rhythm? Here's What It Really Means When Your Heart Skips A Beat
“While heart arrhythmias are common,” said Niraj Sharma, MD, a cardiologist and cardiac electrophysiologist with Gwinnett Medical Center, “their causes can be hard to pinpoint. They are initiated by electrical signals that fire too fast, too slow or irregularly.”
Steadying the Beat
Here are four types of rhythm disorders and what you can do about them:
Ventricular tachycardia or ventricular fibrillation
This dangerously racing heartbeat condition is caused by abnormal electrical pulses in the heart’s lower chambers (ventricles). This rhythm can become irregular without warning, causing insufficient oxygen to be delivered to the brain. When this happens, patients experience sudden cardiac arrest unless medical help is provided immediately.
“The most effective way to correct the rhythm and prevent fibrillation,” said Dr. Sharma, “is with an implantable cardiac defibrillator. No amount or type of drug is nearly as effective.”
Gwinnett Medical Center recently became only the second hospital system in Georgia, and the only one in North Metro Atlanta, to conduct a subcutaneous implantable cardiac defibrillator (SICD) procedure.
SICD enables a defibrillator to be placed directly under the skin without touching the heart, an amazing innovation in cardiovascular care that does not involve placement of a wire inside the heart. This offers an important alternative particularly for patients who have no vascular access or younger patients who may require multiple defibrillators during their life.
When an inactive person’s resting heartbeat falls below 60 beats per minute, the arrhythmia is known as bradycardia. As a result, blood flow to the brain may be insufficient and cause fatigue, dizziness or fainting. Bradycardia becomes more likely with age.
Although treatment isn’t always necessary, tests can evaluate whether it is necessary to implant an electronic pacemaker under the skin to speed up the heart rhythm.
Supraventricular tachycardia, with its racing, uncomfortable and irregular rhythm, is a faster-than-normal heartbeat caused by abnormal electrical pulses in the heart’s upper chambers (atria).
This irregularity is not usually life-threatening, but because it prevents the atria from properly delivering blood to the ventricles, the likelihood for a stroke increases fivefold.
“With atrial fibrillation, tests should be done to further evaluate the patient for the potential cause and to assess their risk for stroke,” said Dr. Sharma. “Usually this condition can be treated with medication or cardioversion, an electric shock to restore the heart’s normal rhythm.”
Premature ventricular contractions (PVCs)
PVCs, with their skips and flutters, are the most common arrhythmia, according to Dr. Sharma. “They originate within an irritable area of the heart’s lower chambers,” he said, “disturbing the electrical signals and causing an irregular, or extra, beat.”
In a normal heart, causes of PVCs include heart-pounding, stressful activities, high anxiety or a rush of adrenaline. Most PVCs are harmless and almost everyone will experience them.
Determining whether your beat-gone-bad is something serious or simply a case of lovesickness could save your life. Visit gmcheart.com to browse through our cardiac patient library, see patient stories and find a cardiologist near you. Or call 678-312-5000 to find a physician.