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There are 71 possible causes of abnormal heart rhythms

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What are Abnormal Heart Rhythms?

Have you ever felt your heart skip a beat? If you’re not a character in a romance novel, that may mean you have an abnormal heart rhythm (arrhythmia). Within the heart is a complex system of valves, nodes, and chambers that control how and when the blood is pumped. If the functions of this vital system are disrupted, damaged, or compromised, it can change the pattern with which your heart beats.

If you are diagnosed with an arrythmia, don’t panic. Not all arrhythmias are life threatening or cause health complications. However, to be on the safe side, any abnormal heart rhythm should be reported to your doctor.

The Types of Abnormal Heart Rhythms

The most common types of abnormal heart rhythms are:

Tachycardia

Tachycardia means that your heart is beating too fast. For example, a normal heart beats 60-100 times per minute in adults. Tachycardia is any heart rate over 100 beats per minute. There are three sub-types of tachycardia:

  • Supraventricular tachycardia occurs in the upper chambers of your heart (the atria).
  • Ventricular tachycardia occurs in the lower chambers (the ventricles).
  • Sinus tachycardia is a normal increase in the heart rate that may occur when you are sick or excited. With sinus tachycardia, your heartbeat returns to normal once you get better or calm down.

Atrial Fibrillation (AF)

This disorganized heart rhythm occurs in the upper chambers of the heart. It is the most common arrhythmia. Atrial fibrillation occurs when many unstable electrical impulses misfire, or quiver out of control. AF can increase the heart rate to 200 or more beats per minute (BPM).

Atrial Flutter (AFL)

An atrial flutter typically occurs in the right atrium, but it may occur in the left atrium as well. The condition is caused by a single electrical impulse that travels rapidly in the affected atrium.

Bradycardia

If you are bradycardic, it means you have a slow heart rate (less than 60 BPM). Bradycardia generally occurs when the electrical signals traveling from the atria to the ventricles become disrupted.

Ventricular Fibrillation (VF)

This type of abnormal rhythm can stop the heart from beating and cause cardiac arrest. It occurs in the ventricles, where blood is pumped out to the body and brain. VF is a serious condition that may cause death if it is not immediately treated.

Premature Contractions

With most premature contractions, the heart appears to skip a beat when the pulse is taken in the wrist or chest. The skipped beat is so faint or weak that it is not heard or felt.

Other types of premature contractions include extra beats and early beats. All three types may occur in the upper or lower heart chambers.

What Causes Abnormal Heart Rhythms?

A number of things may cause an abnormal heartbeat, including high blood pressure. Other common causes are:

Coronary Heart Disease

This serious heart problem occurs when the coronary arteries become blocked by cholesterol and other deposits.

Medications

Some medications or substances may cause your heart rate to change. Caffeine, amphetamines (drugs that stimulant the brain), and beta blockers (used to reduce high blood pressure) are examples.

Other Causes

A number of other factors can also cause alterations in your heart’s rhythm. These include:

  • changes in your heart’s muscle after illness or injury
  • healing after heart surgery
  • low potassium and other electrolytes
  • abnormalities of the heart
  • other health conditions

What are the Risk Factors for Abnormal Heart Rhythms?

The risks for arrhythmia include:

  • smoking
  • previous heart conditions, or a family history of heart conditions
  • diabetes
  • stress
  • being overweight
  • living a sedentary lifestyle, i.e. not exercising
  • eating a diet high in fats, cholesterol, and other unhealthy foods
  • having high blood pressure, diabetes, or other health problems

What Are the Symptoms of Abnormal Heart Rhythms?

If you have an abnormal heart rhythm you may experience some or all of these symptoms:

  • feeling faint, dizzy, or light-headed
  • shortness of breath
  • irregular pulse or heart palpitations
  • chest pain
  • pale skin
  • sweating

Diagnosing Abnormal Heart Rhythms

Your doctor may perform a physical examination to determine whether your heart rhythm is abnormal and try to identify the cause. He may use a stethoscope to listen to your heart. He may also use an EKG machine to examine the electrical impulses of your heart.

Other tools that can be used to diagnose an arrythmia include:

  • Echocardiogram: Also known as a cardiac echo, this test uses sound waves to take pictures of your heart.
  • Holter monitor: This monitor is worn for at least 24 hours while you go about your normal activities. It allows your doctor to track changes in your heart’s rhythm throughout the day.  
  • Stress test: For this test, your doctor will make you walk or jog on a treadmill to see how exercise affects your heart.

Treating Abnormal Heart Rhythms

The treatment for an arrythmia depends on its cause. You may need to stop smoking or change your diet, such as by limiting caffeine. You might also require medication to control or stop your abnormal heartbeat.

For serious abnormalities that do not go away with behavioral changes or medication, doctors can also implant a pacemaker, perform surgery to correct an abnormality, or try other procedures to correct your heart’s rhythm.

Prognosis: What Is to Be Expected in the Long Term?

Although arrythmia can be quite serious, many cases of arrhythmia can be controlled with treatment. Your doctor will probably want to monitor your condition with regular check-ups.

Prevention

Once your arrythmia is under control, your doctor will discuss ways to keep it from coming back. In general, healthy lifestyle choices can go a long way towards helping you control your condition. Your doctor will probably recommend improving your diet, exercising more, and trying to limit other dangerous behaviors, such as smoking.

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Possible Causes - Listed in order from the most common to the least.

1

Atrial Fibrillation and Flutter

Atrial fibrillation and flutter are irregular heart rhythms that occur when the upper chambers of the heart beat irregularly or too fast. Fibrillation can be sustained or can occur in bursts. Flutter is more rapid an...

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2

High Blood Pressure Overview

High blood pressure (hypertension) increases your risk for heart attack, stroke, coronary heart disease, and other serious health problems. Left untreated, high blood pressure can damage blood vessels and vital organs.

Read more »

3

Hyperthyroidism

The thyroid gland is a small butterfly-shaped gland located at the front of the neck below your Adam's apple. It produces tetraiodothyronine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3), two hormones which control how your cells us...

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4

Congestive (Dilated) Cardiomyopathy

Congestive cardiomyopathy, also known as dilated cardiomyopathy, is characterized by a weak primary pumping chamber in the heart. Your heart automatically attempts to correct for this inefficiency. In turn, thi...

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5

Congestive Heart Failure (CHF)

Congestive heart failure is a chronic condition that affects the four chambers of the heart. Early symptoms include fatigue and weight gain. Irregular heart beat and wheezing indicate a worsening.

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6

Mitral Valve Prolapse

Your mitral valve is located on the left side of your heart, between two chambers, the atrium and the ventricle. Blood is pumped from the left atrium through the mitral valve and into the left ventricle on its way t...

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7

Low Blood Potassium

Hypokalemia occurs when the blood's potassium levels are too low. A normal level of potassium is 3.6-5.2 millimoles per liter. Levels below 3.6 are considered low.

Read more »

8

Anaphylaxis

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

When people with severe allergies are exposed to their allergen, a life-threatening reaction called anaphylaxis can result: a series of symptoms such as rash, abdominal pain, and difficulty breathing and shock.

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9

Amphetamine Dependence

People who have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder sometimes require amphetamines to help them cope. Some people take amphetamines to treat narcolepsy, a sleep disorder. Amphetamines are a type of stimulant, ...

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10

The Deadly Potential of Digitalis: Digitalis Toxicity

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

Digitalis toxicity happens when you take too much digitalis, a medication for heart conditions. This results in nausea, vomiting, chills and sweating.

Read more »

11

Dehydration

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

Dehydration occurs when your body loses more fluid than you drink. When the body loses too much water, organs, cells, and tissues fail to function. Dehydration can also cause shock. Severe dehydration must be treate...

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12

Caffeine Overdose

Caffeine overdose may occur when you ingest more than the recommended amount of caffeine, which is usually 200 to 300 mg per day. However, a safe amount of caffeine is different for everyone, as it depends on weight...

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13

Low Blood Sugar (Hypoglycemia)

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

Also known as hypoglycemia, low blood sugar can be a dangerous condition. People often complain about low blood sugar. However, serious hypoglycemia is rare in adults and children over the age of 10 who are no...

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14

Pulmonary Embolism

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

A pulmonary embolism is a blood clot that affects the lungs. Typically, a blood clot travels from another area in the body before becoming lodged in one of the arteries that supply blood to the lungs. A pulmonar...

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15

Sepsis

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

Sepsis is a life-threatening complication of infection. It often occurs in people who are elderly or have weak immune systems. Sepsis happens when the body suffers from an infection and the chemicals released into th...

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16

Paroxysmal Supraventricular Tachycardia (PSVT)

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

Paroxysmal supraventricular tachycardia (PSVT) is a faster-than-normal heart rate. The term paroxysmal means that it only happens from time to time. In the case of PSVT, the rapid heart rate can last from a few minute...

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17

Stroke Overview

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

A stroke is a medical emergency where part of the brain is deprived of oxygen. There are four major kinds of stroke: cerebral thrombosis, cerebral embolism, subarachnoid hemorrhage & intracerebral hemorrhage.

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18

Infectious Mononucleosis

Infectious mononucleosis, often called "mono," is caused by the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV). It typically occurs in teenagers, but you can get it at any age. The virus is spread through saliva, which is why some peopl...

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19

High Potassium

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

High potassium, also known as hyperkalemia , is a condition that occurs when your blood contains too much potassium. According to the Mayo Clinic, a normal range for potassium is between 3.6 and 5.2 millimoles per lite...

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20

Painful Menstrual Periods

Menstruation is a monthly occurrence for women in which the body sheds the lining of the uterus (womb), which is then passed through a small opening in the cervix and out through the vaginal canal. Some pain, cramping...

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This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to diagnose.
Please consult a healthcare professional if you have health concerns.
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