Arrhythmias - Information on Arrhythmias
Arrhythmias are disorders of the regular rhythmic beating of the heart. They're common - about 2.2 million Americans are living with a trial fibrillation (one type of rhythm problem).
Arrhythmias can occur in a healthy heart and be of minimal consequence. They also may indicate a serious problem and lead to heart disease, stroke or sudden cardiac death. The goal of this site is to help the public and healthcare professionals learn more about arrhythmias, and ultimately reduce disability and death from heart disease and stroke. Do your part by learning the facts and taking the steps needed to understand and control arrhythmias.
The heart has four chambers. The top two are the atria, and the lower two are the ventricles. Normally the heartbeat starts in the right atrium when a special group of cells sends an electrical signal. (These cells are called the sinoatrial or SA node, the sinus node or the heart's 'pacemaker.') This signal spreads throughout the atria and to the atrioventricular (A-V) node.
The A-V node connects to a group of fibres in the ventricles that conduct the electrical signal. The impulse travels down these specialized fibres (the His-Purkinje system) to all parts of the ventricles. The electrical signal must follow this exact route for the heart to pump properly.
Patients may describe an arrhythmia as a palpitation or fluttering sensation in the chest. For some types of arrhythmias, a skipped beat might be sensed because the subsequent beat produces a more forceful contraction and a thumping sensation in the chest. A 'racing' heart is another description. Proper diagnosis of arrhythmias requires an electrocardiogram, which is used to evaluate the electrical activity of the heart.
In the majority of cases, a skipped beat is not medically significant. The most serious arrhythmias, however, contribute to almost 500,000 deaths in the United States each year according to the American Heart Association, with annual deaths attributable to the condition rising steadily. Also, one type of arrhythmia called ventricular fibrillation causes most of the 330,000 sudden cardiac deaths that occur each year.
Arrhythmias can either be temporary or permanent and they can be caused by several things - but they can also happen for no apparent reason. Arrhythmias can be congenital, meaning a person is born with the condition. Other causes of arrhythmias include chemical imbalances in the blood, infections or other diseases that cause irritation or inflammation of the heart, medications (prescription or over-the-counter), and injuries to the heart from chest trauma or heart surgery. Other factors like illegal drugs, alcohol, tobacco, caffeine, stress, and some herbal remedies can also cause arrhythmias.
An arrhythmia is a disturbance of the normal rhythm of the heart. Arrhythmias are very common and affect over 700,000 people in England. Arrhythmias may occur naturally, or be due to heart disease or other causes, such as a reaction to a medicine. An arrhythmia may occur continuously or just occasionally.
Arrhythmias can be temporary or permanent. They can be caused by several things, but can also occur for no apparent reason. Arrhythmias can be congenital, meaning a child is born with the condition. This can happen in a child with a birth defect of the heart, or even if a child's heart has formed normally.
In most people, arrhythmias are minor and are not dangerous. A small number of people, however, have arrhythmias that are dangerous and require treatment. Arrhythmias are also more serious if you have other heart problems. In general, arrhythmias that start in the lower chambers of the heart (called the ventricles) are more serious than those that start in the upper chambers (called the atria). Your doctor will talk with you about the type of arrhythmia you have and whether you need treatment.
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