Cardiac arrhythmias are disturbances in the normal rhythm of the heartbeat. Arrhythmias may be a sign of heart disease and can lead to other cardiac symptoms. Because arrhythmias can be life threatening, it is critical to have your heart evaluated by an expert cardiologist. Cardiologists who diagnose and treat patients for cardiac arrhythmias are known as electrophysiologists.
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Fast Heart Rhythms
A typical heart beats 60 to 100 times a minute. Faster than this is a fast heart rhythm, known as supraventricular tachycardia (SVT). This rapid, erratic beat can cause the body to receive an inadequate blood supply.
- Atrial fibrillation keeps the heart from pumping blood efficiently, causing blood to pool inside the heart. Eventually this blood forms clots, setting up a dangerous situation where stroke, pulmonary embolism, or heart attacks can occur.
- Paroxysmal Supraventricular Tachycardia (PSVT) is an abnormal heart rate that occurs sometimes. This form of SVT is caused by too many electrical signals in the heart at once. This causes overload, and the heart begins to beat too quickly.
- Atrial Flutter occurs when the top two chambers of the heart beat too quickly and the lower two chambers-the ventricles-beat too slowly. This condition most often occurs in the elderly and is dangerous because it can cause a stroke.
- Atrial Tachycardia is caused by too many electrical signals in the heart, specifically the atria; the two upper chambers of the heart. These signals cause the heart to beat too quickly, causing palpitations, breathlessness and possible anxiety.
Slow Heart Rhythms
Each day, a normal heart contracts 60 to 100 times a minute. Abnormally slow heart rates are typically those fewer than 60 beats a minute. These slow heart rhythms, referred to as bradycardias, can be life threatening. Bradycardia is usually treated with an implantable cardiac device known as a pacemaker.
Palpitations are usually felt as an unusual pattern to a person's heartbeat, like skips or jumps. This sensation is usually uncomfortable for people and can sometimes signal that there is a heart problem. It is critical to be examined by a cardiologist with experience in evaluating and treating palpitations. Learn more about palpitations.
Syncope is caused by a temporary loss of consciousness, known commonly as fainting. It is caused by low blood pressure—the heart cannot effectively pump enough blood to the brain, affecting the oxygen supply and causing the person to pass out.
While syncope alone is not life threatening, it may sometimes be a symptom of a more serious condition and should be evaluated as soon as possible. Learn more about syncope.
MedStar Heart & Vascular Institute
MedStar Southern Maryland Hospital Center partners with MedStar Heart & Vascular Institute, a national leader in research, diagnosis and treatment of cardiovascular disease.
- Changes in the rate, rhythm or pattern of the pulse
- Chest pain
- Fast or slow heart beat (palpitations)
- Light-headedness, dizziness
- Shortness of breath
- Skipping beats
- Anti-arrhythmic medications
- Blood chemistry imbalances
- Illicit drug use
- Endocrine abnormalities
- Inappropriate use of amphetamines or other stimulants
- Prior heart attack
- Use of certain prescription medications