What types of arrhythmias exist, when they occur and when should we consult a doctor?
Any heart rhythm that is different from normal is classified by doctors as an arrhythmia.
Cardiac arrhythmias can occur in completely healthy people and can be innocent in nature, but in some cases they can also be an expression of a serious condition.
The sensation can be characterized by a heartbeat when it lacks a rhythm or vice versa - when it adds a rhythm. You may have felt something like a flutter in your chest at times or your heart beating too slowly or too fast. These are just some of the possibilities. Sometimes, however, you may not feel anything at all and find out that you have an asymptomatic arrhythmia.
Types of arrhythmia
In short, arrhythmia is a condition in which the heart does not work at the right pace and frequency. Depending on the heart rate, the arrhythmia is divided into:
- tachycardia (heart beats faster than normal)
- bradycardia (heart beats slower than normal)
- premature heart contractions (with early onset)
- tremor of the heart (with irregular rhythm)
There are alarming signs:
- chest pain
- severe fatigue
Among the most dangerous arrhythmias are fibrillation and ventricular oscillation. Even atrial fibrillation, often considered a less severe arrhythmia, can cause a severe stroke. Atrial fibrillation is the most common form of arrhythmia. In the United States it affects about 6-12 million people, and in Europe - about 17.9 million people and, unfortunately, these figures are constantly growing.
What are the risk factors for developing arrhythmia?
Accompanying heart problems
Coronary heart disease is one of the main risk factors for the development of arrhythmia. Coronary arteries are blood vessels that surround the heart and carry oxygen-rich blood to the heart muscle. Blood is needed for proper electrical conduction in the heart, and therefore any involvement of these vessels runs the risk of developing an arrhythmia. Another risk factor is valvular heart disease. Deposits in the heart valves may also include the heart wall between the ventricles - the 2 large pumping chambers. Regular pulse, at best, becomes difficult without unlimited use of valves. Heart failure occurs when the heart muscle is unable to pump blood efficiently and consistently, leading to the accumulation of excess fluid in the lungs and legs. Other heart diseases and conditions, such as microinfarctions and previous cardiac surgeries, congenital heart defects and other diseases have a high risk of developing almost any type of arrhythmia.
Hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism
The heart responds immediately to any thyroid dysfunction. High levels of thyroid hormones speed up metabolism, chest pain and palpitations may occur. This causes the heart to beat faster, blood pressure to rise and cardiac arrhythmias to occur. The low activity of the thyroid gland slows down the metabolism. In this case, on the contrary, the heart begins to beat too slowly or unevenly, lost or additional beats appear.
Taking certain medications
Some over-the-counter medications, most commonly for coughs and colds, and some prescription medications can contribute to arrhythmias.
High blood pressure
High blood pressure can lead to hypertrophy - an increase in the size of the left ventricle of the heart. This can compromise the conduction of the heartbeat through the heart cells of the heart and can lead to an arrhythmia.
Uncontrolled diabetes increases the risk of developing coronary heart disease and high blood pressure, which, as mentioned above, are a risk factor for the development of arrhythmia.
Blood electrolytes (sodium, potassium, calcium and magnesium) are the basis of the mechanism of generation and conduction of electrical impulses in the heart. Changes in blood electrolyte levels can affect heart rate, leading to arrhythmias.
Magnesium and potassium are the main electrolytes contained in cells. Severe cardiac arrhythmias may occur at low concentrations of both electrolytes.
Calcium is the most abundant mineral in our body. Many processes depend on intracellular calcium, such as enzymatic reactions, muscle contraction, heart contractility, platelet aggregation, and many other processes. Calcium is essential for bone strength and neuromuscular function. Half of calcium is bound to albumin; the other half is in a biologically active ionized form. Even small changes in calcium concentration have an effect on the body. For example, when its levels increase, arrhythmias occur, which are due to a change in the contraction of the heart muscle.
Alcohol affects the conduction of electrical impulses in the heart. This affects his work, because he cannot shrink properly and rhythmically. In addition, the broken down products of alcohol disrupt the metabolism of fats, carbohydrates and proteins. The heart does not receive all the necessary substances and tachycardia occurs.
Drug use, too much caffeine, smoking
Caffeine, nicotine and other stimulants can make the heart beat faster than usual. Drug use such as amphetamine and cocaine can significantly affect heart function, leading to arrhythmia, even sudden death due to ventricular fibrillation.
Most of these risk factors can be avoided, which is associated with the prevention of arrhythmia. It is important not to ignore the symptoms of the arrhythmia, but to monitor them carefully and consult a cardiologist if you have any questions.
When to see a doctor?
Arrhythmias can make you feel premature heartbeat or your heart beating fast or beating too slowly. Other signs and symptoms may be related to the fact that the heart is not pumping efficiently due to a fast or slow pulse. These include shortness of breath, weakness, dizziness, fainting, seizures and chest pain or discomfort. Seek emergency medical attention if you experience any of these signs and symptoms suddenly or frequently at a time when you do not expect to feel them.
To diagnose arrhythmia, doctors use the following types of tests and methods:
- ECG – The electrocardiogram records the electrical activity in the heart. It is a quick and painless test that uses electrodes placed on the chest, arms and legs.
- Holter - Generally, the holter is a portable ECG. Also called an "ambulatory electrocardiogram", it is a device that you use for 2 days to 2 weeks, depending on your doctor's judgment. The holter test takes into account the movement of electric waves passing through the heart. These are the same waves that "tell" the heart to contract and pump blood.
- Stress Test - There are different stress tests, but their purpose is one - to check how much stress your heart can bear before there is a problem with your heart rate or blood flow. The most common type of stress test uses a treadmill or exercise bike in combination with an ECG and blood pressure measurement.
- Echocardiogram - This test uses ultrasound to check the condition of the heart muscle and valves.
There are other more specialized tests that may be prescribed at your doctor's discretion. These include: cardiac catheterization, electrophysiological examination, and some neurological examinations..
It is important to point out that arrhythmia is not always prevented, because if you do not have symptoms, you may not even know that you are suffering from it. Regular visits to your family doctor can protect you not only from this, but also from most heart problems. Because some medications and supplements can cause arrhythmias, make sure your doctor is aware of all the medications you are taking.
Your doctor may recommend that you change your lifestyle to a healthier one based on nutrition. A healthy diet is a good prevention not only for arrhythmia, but also for problems with cholesterol, high blood pressure and others. Harmful habits and stress also come to the fore when we talk about heart problems.