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Heart Rhythm Problems

What is Heart Rhythm Disorder?

If you have experienced the sensation of your heart skipping a beat or racing out of control, in absence of a clear cause (like feeling nervous or overly excited), you may have a heart rhythm disorder. These conditions can make you feel like you are running a race while sitting still. 

Millions of Americans experience heart rhythms disorders at some point in their lives. Although many of these disorders can be successfully managed with medication or lifestyle changes, some rhythms or arrhythmias can become life-threatening if left untreated. If you require abnormal heart rhythm treatment in Anderson, our team of heart specialists can help diagnose and treat your condition.

Learn more about heart rhythm disorders, what they are, what can be done to treat them, and how to reduce your risk of recurrence:

Types of Abnormal Heart Rhythms

Abnormal heart rhythms, or arrhythmias, can cause you to feel like your heart skipped a beat or like it’s racing out of control. There are four common types of heart arrhythmias:

  • Bradycardia

  • Irregular or extra heartbeats

  • Supraventricular Tachycardia – atrial flutter, atrial fibrillation, paroxysmal SVT

  • Ventricular Tachycardia (VT)

Arrhythmias can be life-threatening if left untreated. At AnMed Health Heart and Vascular Center, we use several diagnostic tests to identify arrhythmias including electrocardiogram (ECG), Holter Monitor, a stress test, a tilt table test and an electrophysiology study (EP) if necessary. If an arrhythmia is not revealed with routine testing, your doctor may suggest an implantable loop recorder.

The Heart and Vascular Center’s electrophysiology lab offers some of the latest advances in technology and treatment for arrhythmias, including bi-ventricular implantable pacemakers, MRI proof pacemakers, implantable cardioverter-defibrillators or ICDs, and ablation. 

While many treatments involve implantable devices, ablation takes a different approach and burns away cells to eliminate the abnormal rhythm. Here’s how it works:

During an EP study, the electrophysiologist (a cardiologist with specialized training in the electrical system of the heart) will thread long, thin, flexible wires to the heart, normally through the groin. When the electrophysiologist determines which area of the heart is causing the arrhythmia, a special wire carrying radiofrequency energy is used to cauterize the site. Ablation is an outpatient procedure that normally takes only a couple of hours to complete and has few complications. At AnMed Health, our robot-assisted navigation system makes it easier to guide the catheter during ablation procedures. This ease of access helps to shorten the procedure time and reduce patients’ radiation exposure.


Symptoms of Arrhythmias

Arrhythmia, also called irregular heartbeat, shouldn’t be ignored. This condition can produce a wide range of symptoms, which means that your experience of arrhythmia can differ from another patient who also suffers from arrhythmia. 

A mild arrhythmia might only occasionally cause your heart to get out of rhythm, and it can cause a quivering or fluttering sensation. This often happens when you have one premature or skipped heart beat every now and then. However, if your arrhythmia is chronic, it will eventually begin to alter the way your heart beats on a regular basis, leading to the development of more severe and serious symptoms, including:

  • Pressure or pain in the chest 

  • Shortness of breath

  • Pounding in the chest or rapid heartbeat

  • Near-fainting or fainting spells

  • Light-headedness or dizziness

  • Weakness or fatigue

  • In the most severe cases, sudden cardiac arrest 


What Causes Abnormal Heart Rhythm?

Causes of abnormal heart rhythms include high blood pressure, coronary heart disease, diabetes, sleep apnea, blocked arteries, and either an overactive or underactive thyroid. Also, COVID-19 can cause an abnormal heart rhythm as well. 

Medications can also lead to abnormal heart rhythms. For example, beta-blockers, amphetamines, some nutritional supplements, and even over-the-counter allergy medications can contribute to arrhythmia. Alcohol, nicotine, and caffeine can alter your heart rate, too.

Other causes of abnormal heart rhythm include healing from a heart surgery, abnormalities in the heart itself, having low levels of potassium or other electrolytes, and experiencing changes in your heart’s muscles due to injury or illness.


Risk Factors for Arrhythmia

Some risk factors for arrhythmia are genetic, some involve lifestyle choices, and others are due to chronic medical conditions. Some of the most common risk factors for arrhythmia include:

  • Family history of heart conditions or having heart conditions yourself

  • Diabetes

  • Sleep apnea

  • A diet high in cholesterol and fats

  • Obesity 

  • Stress

  • Drug misuse or abuse

  • Drinking too much alcohol (consuming over two alcoholic drinks daily)

  • Smoking

  • Sedentary lifestyle

Diagnosing Abnormal Heart Rhythm

If you suspect you may have an abnormal heart rhythm, visit your doctor for a basic physical exam. The exam will begin simply by listening to your heart using a stethoscope. If your doctor suspects you do have arrhythmia, they will probably recommend additional tests to determine the cause and scope of your issue.

Your doctor will likely order an echocardiogram or (EKG or ECG). This test is also sometimes referred to as a cardiac echo. It evaluates your heart through the utilization of sound waves, which can then create a picture of your heart. The doctor might also recommend that you wear a Holter monitor, which is a monitor that you wear for 24 hours while you go about your regular routine. The monitor will track your heart’s rhythm as you move throughout your day and collect valuable data for your doctor that will help diagnose your heart problem.

For sporadic arrhythmia, your doctor might recommend wearing a portable ECG device that attaches to your body as well. However, this monitor allows you to push a button when you are experiencing symptoms, signaling the device to record the episode. It differs from the Holter monitor in that it only records when the patient pushes the button, allowing your doctor to zero in on what your heart is doing when you experience symptoms.

If your doctor is still concerned about your arrhythmia and needs more information, they will order a stress test. This test monitors your heart as you perform various physically challenging tasks, like jogging or walking on a treadmill for a specific amount of time. Throughout the process, doctors closely monitor you and your heart to see how your body responds to the increased physical demand. They might also recommend a tilt table test, which is often used if you have experienced fainting in conjunction with your arrhythmia. In this test, you lie flat on a table and the table is then tilted upwards to mimic standing. Your heart is monitored throughout the process which shows your doctor the changes your nervous system and heart experiences when the angle of your body is altered.

What to Expect Long-Term After Arrhythmia Treatment

Arrhythmia can be serious if left untreated. However, in most cases, if you go through the treatment process and make the recommended changes to your diet and lifestyle, you can live a long and healthy life with arrhythmia. The long-term prognosis is greatly affected by the cause of your arrhythmia, its severity, and your treatments and lifestyle. Ask your doctor how you can improve your overall level of health to increase your heart’s longevity and promote healthy rhythms.

It’s important to keep up with your doctor’s appointments to stay on top of potential heart rhythm changes, even if you have treated your condition successfully. If lifestyle factors have contributed to your arrhythmia, then making lasting changes to your daily exercise and diet habits can make a big improvement to your heart health. If your risk factors included family history or past history of heart problems, this makes regular checkups that much more important.


Why AnMed Health?

As the greater-Anderson area’s premier cardiovascular program, AnMed Health is committed to ensuring that all our heart and vascular patients have access to the highest quality of care. Through innovative programs, collaborations and technological advances, we continuously expand the scope of heart services. We are very proud of the numerous accolades received by our heart and vascular program.