Conditions & Symptoms
An irregular heartbeat is also known as an arrhythmia, when the heart's electrical system, which controls heart rhythm, doesn't work properly. The faulty electrical signaling can cause the heart to beat too fast (tachycardia), too slow (bradycardia), or irregularly.
Irregular Heartbeat Symptoms
You may not notice that you have an irregular heartbeat. Arrhythmias can be harmless for some people. For others, they can cause uncomfortable symptoms and lead to life-threatening complications. Symptoms can vary and may include:
- Fluttering in the chest
- Racing heartbeat
- Slow heartbeat
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath
- Dizziness or fainting
Irregular Heartbeat Treatments
There are a variety of treatments for an irregular heartbeat, including: medication, implanted device, minimally-invasive procedures, and surgery. The right treatment will depend on what is causing your arrhythmia.
Cardiac catheter ablation uses hot or cold energy on heart tissue, creating scars that block erratic electrical signals from passing through your heart to restore a normal heart rhythm. The procedure could take a total of 6 to 8 hours.
Pacemakers are implantable devices that help maintain a normal heart rate using electrodes attached to your heart that send electrical signals when a slow or irregular heartbeat is detected.
Implantable cardioverter-defibrillators (ICDs) are devices implanted under the skin that deliver shocks to the heart when they detect a fatal rhythm to prevent cardiac arrest.
Your recovery time will vary based on the procedure you have. For cardiac catheter ablation, you should be able to resume most normal activities within a few days. Avoid heavy lifting or strenuous work for at least a week after the procedure.
Pacemaker and ICD implantation may require an overnight stay. We recommend avoiding heavy lifting and vigorous activity for at least a month following the procedure and offer device clinics to help you learn how to manage the devices.
Coronary bypass surgery is a major surgery and will require a longer recovery time, including a stay in the ICU unit. You should be released from the hospital within 8 to 12 days.
More on Irregular Heartbeat
Causes of an Irregular Heartbeat
An irregular heartbeat can be caused by many different factors. Some are fleeting and easier to control while others may be harder to manage. Common causes include:
- Heart attack
- Scarring from a previous heart attack
- Coronary artery disease
- High blood pressure
- Hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism
- Sleep apnea
- Stress or anxiety
- Drug abuse
- Certain over-the-counter cold or flu medications
- Drinking too much alcohol or caffeine
Diagnosing an Irregular Heartbeat
Having an irregular heartbeat can put you at risk for heart disease or other heart complications. Therefore, seeking a diagnosis and pursuing any necessary treatment is important. We offer several screening tests to diagnose arrhythmia. They include:
- Electrocardiogram (EKG)
- Holter or event monitor
- Cardiac stress test