Heart Arrhythmias—What are the symptoms and causes?

Heart arrhythmias, or abnormal heart rhythm, occur when the electrical impulses that coordinate your heartbeats do not work properly, causing your heart to beat too quickly, too slowly, or erratically. Heart arrhythmias can present as a fluttering or racing heart that may be harmless. However, some arrhythmias can be life-threatening, so it is important to visit your doctor if you notice certain signs and symptoms.

Symptoms of heart arrhythmia

- Fluttering feeling in chest

- Racing heartbeat (tachycardia)

- Slow heartbeat (bradycardia)

- Chest pain

- Shortness of breath

- Dizziness or lightheadedness

- Fainting or near-fainting spells

- In extreme cases, sudden cardiac arrest

In some cases, heart arrhythmias may not cause any symptoms but may be noticeable during a routine examination by a doctor.

Common causes of heart arrhythmia

- Coronary artery disease

- High blood pressure

- Overactive or underactive thyroid gland

- Too much alcohol or caffeine

- Smoking

- Stress

- Changes in heart structure

- Certain medications or supplements

- Diabetes

- Genetics

- Heart attack or scarring from prior heart attack

Treatment options

- Cardiac ablation: This procedure uses a radio frequency current that passes through a catheter to correct structural problems in the heart. Ablation destroys tissue that triggers abnormal heart rhythms.

- Implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD): For people with recurrent arrhythmias, an ICD monitors heart rate and provides automatic correction if an arrhythmia is detected. An ICD is placed under the skin.

- Artificial pacemaker: This battery-operated device replaces the heart’s natural pacemaker, the sinoatrial node, which produces the electrical impulses that make your heart beat. The artificial pacemaker works in a similar way by sending electrical impulses from a generator to the heart to help it function properly.