Heart Arrhythmia: Causes, Symptoms and Prevention
What is heart arrhythmia?
Have you ever used the phrase “Be still, my heart”? Well, if you have, you might have suffered an episode of arrhythmia without realizing it.
An arrhythmia is an uneven or abnormal heart rhythm caused by a “malfunction” of the electrical signals that direct and coordinate your heartbeat. When this happens, you feel like your heart is beating too slow, fluttering or racing.
In a normal situation, a healthy heartbeat can be identified by counting the number of times the heart beats every minute when you’re not active. This is called the resting heart rate. According to the American Heart Association (AHA), for most healthy individuals, a normal resting heart rate is usually between 60 and 100 bpm.
Types of heart arrhythmia
Specialists classify arrhythmias based on their origin (in the atria or ventricles) and by heart rate they cause:
- Tachycardia (fast heartbeat) refers to a resting heart rate that exceeds 100 beats a minute.
- Bradycardia (slow heartbeat) refers to a resting heart rate less than 60 beats a minute.
These two types usually last longer but there are also brief episodes of arrhythmia that don’t have a significant impact on your heart rhythm. You may experience irregular heartbeat, also known as a flutter or early heartbeat.
Causes of heart arrhythmia
The direct cause of irregular heart rhythm is an interruption of the heart’s electrical impulses. There are various conditions which might cause this interruption, such as:
- Heart disease
- Other diseases such as thyroid disease and anemia
- High blood pressure
- Physical or emotional stress
Heart arrhythmia can also be caused by other factors, such as:
- alcohol abuse
- dietary and herbal supplements
- certain medications
If your heart rhythm is too fast or too slow, it doesn’t necessarily mean you have a heart disease. Athletes, for example, have a faster heartbeat because the heart is working double-time to pump more oxygen to the muscles that are doing the exercise. On the other hand, it’s normal for your heart to beat slower during sleep, with rates around 40–50 bpm.
Symptoms of heart arrhythmia
Heart arrhythmias can sometimes go unnoticed and discovered during routine checkups. Even if you do notice certain symptoms, it still doesn’t mean it’s something severe.
Most common arrhythmia symptoms may include:
- A rapid heartbeat (tachycardia)
- A slow heartbeat (bradycardia)
- Chest discomfort
- Shortness of breath and anxiety
- Lightheadedness or dizziness
- Fainting or near fainting (pre-syncope)
Prevention of heart arrhythmia
There are certain risk factors that cannot be avoided, such as being 65 or older, having underlying conditions such as heart disease or diabetes. But there are things you can do if you have a normal, healthy heart, to lower the risks of developing heart arrhythmia:
Stay active. According to AHA, adults aged 18–64 should do at least 150 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise every week.
See your doctor regularly to make sure everything is in order with your body.
Limit caffeine intake.
Avoid alcohol and other substances that may cause a disruption of your heart rhythm.
Stop or reduce smoking. Non-smokers should avoid secondhand smoke. If you lack motivation, here are 7 Things That Happen to Your Body When You Quit Smoking that will take your breath away!
Adopt a healthy diet and manage your weight. Men and women who are overweight or obese may be more likely to develop an abnormal heartbeat.
Manage stress. Emotional stress and anxiety may cause an irregular heart rhythm and lead to more serious heart conditions later in life.