Complications of Arrhythmia

Written by the Healthline Editorial Team | Published on July 8, 2014
Medically Reviewed by Jennifer Monti, MD

Complications of Arrhythmia

Most arrhythmias are harmless and have few side effects. Some, however, affect your heart’s ability to pump blood. This can affect many organs in the body and lead to serious complications.

Stroke

When a chamber of the heart fibrillates (quivers), it means the heart isn’t pumping blood effectively. This can cause blood to collect in pools inside the heart chamber. Blood that sits may form clots. If a blood clot breaks off and leaves the heart, it can enter your circulatory system and travel throughout your body. If it sticks in a narrowed or tapering artery in the brain, it can cause a stroke. Stroke can cause brain damage and, in some cases, can be fatal.

Heart Failure

Long-term tachycardia or bradycardia can result in a weakened heart that cannot pump enough blood to the body and its organs.

Alzheimer’s Disease

Researchers at the Intermountain Medical Center in Salt Lake City have linked atrial fibrillation with the development of Alzheimer’s disease. This study looked at more than 37,000 patients. Though not conclusive, these researchers found the following:

  • Patients with atrial fibrillation (AF) were 44 percent more likely to develop dementia than patients without AF.
  • Patients with AF were at higher risk for all types of dementia, particularly Alzheimer’s.
  • AF patients under age 70 were 130 percent more likely to develop Alzheimer’s than those without AF.

Sudden Cardiac Arrest

The extremely fast, chaotic heartbeat of ventricular tachycardia and ventricular fibrillation can make the lower chambers of the heart quiver. When this happens, they may not be able to pump any blood. The result is sudden cardiac arrest, a condition in which the heart suddenly stops effectively pumping blood to the rest of the body. When cardiac arrest occurrs, breathing stops as well and the patient loses consciousness. This is a medical emergency. If not treated immediately, cardiac arrest will result in death.

Long-Term Outlook

Most arrhythmias have no effect on your health. Those that do affect your health usually respond to treatment. If you have symptoms of an arrhythmia, see your doctor. If your arrhythmia requires treatment, your doctor will be able to advise you. There are many treatment options available. These include lifestyle changes, medications, and implantable devices to monitor and control your heartbeat. If your arrhythmia requires treatment, be sure that you:

  • keep all medical appointments and always bring a list of all medications you are taking
  • take all your medication as instructed by your doctor
  • talk to your doctor before taking any over-the-counter medications or supplements
  • talk to your doctor about any side effects you may be having from your medications
  • tell your doctor about any new symptoms or changes in symptoms
  • get regular check-ups

To improve your outlook, make any lifestyle changes that your doctor recommends. Take care of yourself and stay healthy. This means eat right, get plenty of rest, exercise regularly, and avoid substances and situations that might make your arrhythmia worse. With care, most arrhythmia patients can live a normal life.

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