Even with treatment, some irregular heart rhythms return. Recurrent arrhythmias may require a more aggressive approach to treatment, as well as an acceptance of living with an arrhythmia.
An arrhythmia is a disruption to the electrical system that normally keeps your heart’s upper chambers (atria) and lower chambers (ventricles) beating in a steady, coordinated rhythm. It can cause your heart to beat too quickly, too slowly, or in a chaotic, inefficient manner.
Repeated episodes of heart rhythm disturbances are called “recurrent arrhythmia.” They present some treatment challenges and a greater risk of complications.
But, by working closely with a cardiologist and making heart-healthy lifestyle adjustments, you may be able to enjoy a long, healthy life, despite ongoing episodes of heart rhythm disruptions.
Any type of arrhythmia, including recurrent arrhythmia, means your heart isn’t pumping as effectively and efficiently as it should. This in turn can lead to some serious problems.
Certain arrhythmias can cause your heart to work too hard, potentially weakening the heart muscle. Other types of arrhythmia can lead to poor circulation to other organs and tissue, placing their health and function in jeopardy.
Atrial fibrillation (AFib)
Other types of rhythm problems, called persistent arrhythmias, require treatment in order for symptoms to stop. A third kind of arrhythmia is classified as “permanent” when no treatments are effective in restoring a healthy rhythm.
Single event arrhythmia
It’s possible to have just one heart arrhythmia episode. Excessive alcohol use, for example, can cause a single event. A diagnosis of recurrent arrhythmia can be made when the heart experiences
An arrhythmia may return even if treatment appears successful at first. In many cases, treatments are simply able to restore a healthy rhythm for a limited amount of time.
For example, a
A separate study found that about one-third of participants who underwent electrical cardioversion for AFib required further treatments.
Arrhythmia risk factors
It’s not always clear why someone experiences recurrent arrhythmia. But, the factors that predispose someone to developing an arrhythmia initially are the same as the factors that can raise the risk of arrhythmia recurrence. These include:
- advancing age
- coronary artery disease
- family history of arrhythmia
- high blood pressure
- obstructive sleep apnea
Some recurrent arrhythmias are so mild, you may not notice any symptoms. In these cases, treatment may not be required. When symptoms are noticeable, they can include:
- chest pain or discomfort
- lightheadedness or fainting
- palpitations or other changes in your heart rate
- racing heart
- shortness of breath
When to seek medical help
If you start to experience severe chest pain, pressure in your chest, or shortness of breath, especially at rest, call 911 or local emergency services — these could be symptoms of a heart attack or other medical emergency. If other symptoms develop, see or call a doctor or visit a walk-in medical clinic.
Recurrent arrhythmia can lead to a number of potentially serious health complications. This is because a heart that’s not beating in a healthy rhythm can become overworked, and blood flow throughout the body can suffer.
Some of the more common complications of recurrent arrhythmia include:
The type and severity of an arrhythmia largely dictates the treatment or combination of treatments your doctor will recommend. The main treatments for recurrent arrhythmia include:
- Antiarrhythmic medications: These drugs help slow down or speed up your heart to return it to a normal rhythm.
- Cardioversion: This treatment method applies electrical energy from outside your chest to restore a normal rhythm.
- Cardiac ablation: This treatment uses a catheter, inserted into a blood vessel (often in your upper leg) and guided to your heart, to emit radiofrequency energy or cold energy (cryoablation) to destroy a small portion of tissue suspected of causing the electrical disturbance.
- Implantable devices: Doctors can put these devices — such as implantable cardioverter defibrillators and pacemakers — into your chest to help regulate irregular heart rhythms.
Lifestyle changes are also necessary to maintain healthy heart function. Some recommended changes include:
The outlook for someone with recurrent arrhythmia depends on the nature of the heart rhythm problem. Living with AFib, for example, means you have a higher risk of stroke. But, AFib is a much more manageable arrhythmia than others.
Once you’ve receive a diagnosis of arrhythmia, understand that it’s a chronic condition that will have to be monitored and managed for the rest of your life. This may mean taking medications every day, watching what you eat, and exercising as advised by your medical care team.
Even if treatment is successful, there’s a chance the rhythm problem can return. Following the advice of your cardiologist or electrophysiologist (a cardiologist who specializes in arrhythmias) will give you the best odd of a healthy outcome.