An arrhythmia is a disorder of the heart that affects the rate or rhythm at which the heart beats; basically the way the electricity works.
It happens when electrical impulses that direct and regulate heartbeats don’t function properly. This causes the heart to beat:
- too fast (tachycardia)
- too slow (bradycardia)
- too early (premature contraction)
- too erratically (fibrillation)
The prevalence of arrhythmia is between 1.5 and 5 percentTrusted Source of the population.
It may feel like your heart is racing or fluttering. Or you may not feel different at all.
Arrhythmias can be common and usually harmless, but some can be problematic. When an arrhythmia interferes with blood flow to your body, it can damage your:
- other vital organs
If they’re not treated, arrhythmias may be life threatening.
Common signs can include:
- feeling like your heart skipped a beat
- a fluttering feeling in your neck or chest
- rapid heartbeat
- slow or irregular heartbeat
Arrhythmias can have medical, physical, emotional, or genetic causes. The cause may also be unknown.
Antibiotics and other medications can trigger arrhythmia in some people. These may include medications that treat:
- high blood pressure
Changes in blood flow or physical alterations to the heart, such as scarring, can also cause arrhythmia. Other medical conditions may also be the source. They can include:
- high blood pressure
- thyroid disorder
- sleep apnea
- electrolyte imbalance, such as from low levels of calcium, potassium, or magnesium
Other physical or lifestyle factors can also cause arrhythmia in some cases. These can include:
- strong emotions like anger, stress, or anxiety
- drinking alcohol
Arrhythmias sometimes don’t need specific treatment, but it’s important to have your arrhythmia medically evaluated.
A doctor will evaluate whether your arrhythmia may cause more serious symptoms or other conditions when deciding on treatment options.
It’s important to exercise, maintain a healthy diet, and manage your blood pressure and cholesterol levels when you have an arrhythmia. This can lower your risk for complications like a heart attack or stroke.