Arrhythmias are abnormal or irregular heartbeats, and very common. Most people have experienced an arrhythmia. Most arrhythmias are harmless. You may have an arrhythmia and have no symptoms. Your doctor may be the first to notice signs of an arrhythmia. This will probably be during a routine physical exam when he or she listens to your heartbeat or performs an ECG (electrocardiogram).
The most common signs and symptoms of arrhythmias include:
- Palpitations, a feeling that your heart is skipping a beat or fluttering
- a heartbeat that is too fast or “racing”
- a heartbeat that is too slow
- an irregular heartbeat
- pauses between heartbeats
More serious symptoms include:
- chest pain
- shortness of breath
- dizziness or lightheadedness
- fainting or near fainting
- severe heart palpitations
The symptoms of an arrhythmia are often ignored. If your heartbeat is sometimes irregular, your heart races without reason, or you’re unable to easily bring your heart rate down after exercise, you may want to see your doctor.
In addition to a racing, erratic, or too-slow heartbeat, if you have symptoms such as fainting, shortness of breath, dizziness, lightheadedness, or chest pain, it’s important to seek medical care immediately. These symptoms may also be caused by other problems that require urgent diagnosis.
Some arrhythmias are medical emergencies. They must be treated as soon as possible. If left untreated, they can damage your heart or brain, or cause death. Ventricular fibrillation (a fast, chaotic heartbeat), for example, can be deadly if not treated with cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and defibrillation as soon as possible.