Heart arrhythmia, or irregular heartbeats, are experienced by millions of people at some point in their lifetime and can be completely harmless in many instances. However, in some cases, a heart arrhythmia can be an indication of a serious heart rhythm disorder, which must be diagnosed and treated by a medical specialist. Join Bloom and partner, Momentum Health4Me, as they recognise World Heart Rhythm Week from the 7th – 13th June 2021. The aim of the campaign is the raise awareness about the symptoms of arrhythmia and educate the public about this condition. For more information about heart health and arrhythmia, visit www.arrhythmiaalliance.org.uk
What is heart arrhythmia?
A heart arrhythmia occurs when your heart beats either too quickly or too slowly. This happens when the electrical impulses that coordinate and control one’s heartbeats don’t function properly resulting in an irregular heartbeat. Some of the symptoms that one could experience with arrhythmia include:
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath
- A fluttering feeling in one’s chest
- Dizziness or fainting spells
- Profuse sweating
6 Types of arrhythmia and what they mean
There are a number of different types of arrhythmias that vary according to where they originate from in one’s heart, for instance, the atria or the ventricles, and they will also vary in their degree of seriousness. These include:
- Tachycardia. This refers to a heartbeat that is too fast, which means that your heartbeat is greater than 100 beats per minute. There are three subtypes of tachycardia: supraventricular tachycardia, ventricular tachycardia and sinus tachycardia. It must be noted that during a time of intense exercise, your heartbeat can increase.
- Bradycardia. This refers to a heartbeat that is too slow, which means that your heartbeat is less than 60 beats per minute. Sometimes bradycardia is associated with episodes of deep sleep or relaxation.
- Atrial fibrillation. This is called a disorganised heart rhythm and is the most common form of arrhythmia. AFib develops when multiple unstable electrical impulses misfire, which causes the heart rate to increase and become erratic.
- Ventricular fibrillation, or VF, can cause cardiac arrest which, according to the South African Heart & Stroke Foundation, is a serious form of cardiovascular disease. It means that your heart may stop beating and could result in death because the ventricles of your heart will not be able to pump blood out to your body.
- Atrial Flutter. This develops in the right or left atrium of the heart and is caused by a single electrical impulse that travels through the atrium, resulting in a very fast heart rate.
- Premature contractions. This is when your heart appears to skip a beat or includes an extra heartbeat or premature heartbeat. It’s a condition that is caused in the upper or lower heart chambers.
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, which are associated with a heart arrhythmia, we recommend that you make an appointment to see a doctor or cardiologist so that they can provide you with a diagnosis. This will involve a physical examination and may include having a specialised procedure known as an electrocardiogram (ECG) in order to measure the electrical impulses of your heart.
Treatment for heart arrhythmia
Most arrhythmias don’t require specific treatment. However, it is important to maintain a healthy lifestyle, like following a balanced diet and keeping up with regular exercise. You should also make sure that your cholesterol levels and blood pressure are at a healthy level. If your doctor determines that your arrhythmia is serious, you can manage the condition with medication, like beta-blockers, anticoagulants, calcium channel blockers or antiarrhythmic drugs. The condition can also be corrected with surgery. Surgical procedures for arrhythmia include having a pacemaker or an implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD) fitted to assist in regulating your heartbeat and helping to prevent cardiac arrest.
Risk factors for developing arrhythmia
There are many types of risk factors that make some people more susceptible than others to developing an arrhythmia. A family history of heart disease or hereditary defect will definitely affect one’s risk, as will certain lifestyle choices, like excessive use of caffeine, alcohol, illegal/recreational drugs, tobacco smoking or living in a highly polluted area. Some types of medical conditions can also cause heart arrhythmia. These include the following:
- High blood pressure
- Heart failure or a heart attack
- Coronary artery disease
- Heart valve disease
- Certain types of kidney disease
- Thyroid conditions (overactive or underactive)
- Chronic lung disease
- Sleep apnea
How to improve your heart health
The best thing you can do for your heart health is to adopt and maintain a healthy lifestyle. This means eating healthy, heart-healthy foods and sticking to a regular exercise plan. It’s also a good idea to identify what your arrhythmia triggers are so that you can avoid these dangers. These could include any of the following:
Manage heart arrhythmia with healthy lifestyle changes. This means you need to:
- Quit smoking
- Stick to a healthy diet
- Follow a regular exercise plan
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Maintain healthy cholesterol and blood pressure level
- Reduce stress or stressful activities
- Limit the quantity of caffeine or alcohol you consume
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