An arrhythmia is an abnormal heart rhythm. It feels like your heart is fluttering or skipping a beat. Everyone has experienced this before. However, it can be serious and a sign of a greater issue, such as heart disease, if it’s persistent.
Getting treatment for your arrhythmia may involve seeing many doctors and specialists. If you also have heart disease, you may need to see a doctor who specializes in that. If your arrhythmia isn’t a health concern, you may not need to see any specialists.
Here are some professionals who may be involved in the diagnosis and treatment of your arrhythmia:
Primary care doctor
Your primary care doctor may be an internist or general practitioner. They may:
- diagnose an arrhythmia
- begin treatment
- coordinate care
- maintain records for you
- refer you to specialists
Your primary care doctor may refer you to a cardiologist for further evaluation and treatment. A cardiologist is a doctor who specializes in heart issues, including arrhythmias. Your cardiologist will likely conduct a variety of diagnostic tests to determine if you have an arrhythmia, what part of your heart is affected, and the severity of your condition.
Your primary care doctor or cardiologist may refer you to an electrophysiologist. This doctor is a cardiologist who specializes in the care and treatment of arrhythmias. They may prescribe a course of treatment and relay that information to your general practitioner for your extended care, or they may serve as your primary doctor for your arrhythmia.
When you make an appointment, ask if there are any pre-appointment restrictions. For example, you might be asked to restrict your diet if your doctor plans to draw blood for certain tests.
When you see your doctor, it’s important to bring information they’ll need to make a proper diagnosis. Having this information written down will save time and help prevent you from forgetting anything important.
Information to bring
Bring the following information to help your doctor make an accurate diagnosis:
- a description of your symptoms
- how often your symptoms occur
- what you’re doing when you get symptoms
- how long symptoms last
- a list of medicines you’re taking, including over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and herbal supplements
If you use illicit or prescription drugs recreationally, share this information with your doctor as well.
Your doctor will also ask if you or anyone in your family has a history of:
- heart disease
- high blood pressure
- heart attack
- thyroid problems
They’ll also want to know if anyone in your family has died suddenly.
Questions to ask your doctor
Write down a list of questions before you see your doctor to get the most from your visit. Start with the most important questions in case you run out of time. The following are some questions you may want to ask:
- What is the likely cause of my symptoms?
- Do I have an arrhythmia?
- Will I need tests? If so, what kind?
- What is the best treatment?
- Should I change my diet?
- Should I exercise? How much?
- How often should I have checkups?
- What are alternatives to the treatment you’re suggesting?
- What about my other health conditions?
- Do I need to restrict my activities, drinking, or smoking?
- Do I need to see a specialist?
You should add any other questions you may want to ask to your list.
Questions your doctor will ask
Your doctor will want to know about your habits, such as smoking, drinking, or illicit drug use. It’s important that you answer honestly. Your doctor can only make an accurate diagnosis and proper treatment recommendation if they have complete and accurate information. Remember that whatever you tell your doctor is confidential.
Your doctor will also want to know if you've experienced or are experiencing a time of heavy mental or emotional stress, such as:
- a job loss
- a death in the family
- relationship issues
High levels of stress can contribute to arrhythmia.
Other questions your doctor may ask include:
- When did your symptoms begin?
- Do you have symptoms all the time or occasionally?
- How severe are your symptoms?
- What makes your symptoms better?
- What makes your symptoms worse?
The information you bring along will be helpful in answering these questions.
Worrying about an arrhythmia can lead to stress and depression and make your arrhythmia worse. It’s good to make time for fun and relaxation on a regular basis. This may be hard at first, but as you begin to feel better it will become easier.
There are many support groups available for people with arrhythmias, both in your community and online. It can be helpful to talk to others with your condition and know that you aren’t alone.
Having a plan in place to deal with episodes of arrhythmia can help put your mind at ease. Talk to your doctor about:
- how and when to use vagal maneuvers, which are actions that can help slow an episode of rapid heart rate
- when to call your doctor
- when to seek emergency care
By working with your doctors or specialists, you can come up with a treatment plan that works for you, whether it involves medication, surgery, alternative treatments, or a combination of all of these. Come up with a plan in case of an emergency and keep your friends and family informed. You can live a healthy and fulfilling life by getting treatment for arrhythmias and preparing for them.