Cardiac Dysrhythmia: Signs, Symptoms, and Treatment

Understanding why your heart skips a beat

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Bradley Leonard

What is Dysrhythmia:

Cardiac dysrhythmias, also known as arrhythmias, are problems with the rhythm or rate of the heartbeat. These changes in pattern are driven by electrical impulses and can range from harmless to life-threatening. There is a wide variety of different types of dysrhythmia, some of the most common are:

  • Sinus node dysfunction – This type of dysrhythmia usually results in an abnormally slow heart rate, defined as less than fifty beats per minute. It is usually caused by scar tissue that develops and over time replaces the sinus node.
  • Supraventricular tachyarrhythmias – This family of dysrhythmia leads to an unusually quick heartbeat. Typically, it is caused by an abnormality in the A-V node or the pathway responsible for heartbeat signals.
  • Atrial fibrillation – Causing a rapid or irregular heartbeat, atrial fibrillation occurs when the atria quiver fibrillates rather than beating normally. While atrial fibrillation occurs, heartbeat signals may originate in a variety of areas rather than the sinus node.
  • A-V block – These types of dysrhythmia occur when there is an issue getting the heartbeat signal between the sinus node and the ventricles.
  • Ventricular tachycardia – Ventricular tachycardia is an abnormal heart rhythm that begins in the ventricles. It can last anywhere between a few seconds and a few hours. If it isn’t treated, it can be dangerous.
  • Ventricular fibrillation – This type of dysrhythmia occurs when the ventricles quiver ineffectively, without producing a strong heartbeat. This can lead to unconsciousness followed by brain damage and even death. It can be caused by heart attacks, electrical accidents, or drowning.

Diagnosing Dysrhythmia:

The signs and symptoms of dysrhythmia can vary from barely noticeable to severe. If you notice any of the following symptoms regularly or infrequently, you should speak with your doctor:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Pounding in chest
  • Palpitations (a feeling of skipped heartbeats)
  • Fainting
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Chest pain

It’s important to diagnose dysrhythmia early for severe cases to reduce the risk of fatal heart events. To determine whether a patient has dysrhythmia, and to identify the specific type, doctors can use a wide range of technology and techniques. Some of the most common are:

  • Echocardiogram
  • Electrophysiology Study
  • Holter Monitor
  • Event Monitor
  • Tilt Table Test

When diagnosing dysrhythmia, it’s important to look for any risk factors or causes that may increase the chances of developing the condition. The most common risk factors are:

  • Previous heart conditions
  • Family history of heart problems
  • Congenital heart defects
  • Old age

Aside from risk factors, some causes that may lead to the development of dysrhythmia are:

  • Stress
  • Smoking
  • Drug abuse
  • Excessive alcohol consumption
  • Coronary artery disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Obesity
  • High cholesterol

If you are at risk of developing dysrhythmia, you can make lifestyle changes to reduce the risk. While some hereditary factors cannot be controlled, you can take precautions such as avoiding triggers (alcohol, caffeine, drugs, etc) and maintaining good cardio health. Another consideration is that if you have been prescribed medication to regulate

your heart health it is essential to take it consistently as prescribed to ensure it can help you as intended.

Dysrhythmia Treatment and Prognosis:

The treatment of dysrhythmia will vary based on the severity of the condition. In some cases, no treatment at all is necessary. However, in others, making lifestyle changes or taking medication may be necessary, as mentioned above.

Medical Treatment:

Drugs known as antiarrhythmics may be used to convert dysrhythmia into a normal heartbeat or to prevent the dysrhythmia altogether. In some cases, blood thinners or anticoagulants can be used to reduce the risk of altercations such as strokes. If you are prescribed medication to treat dysrhythmia, you must take it consistently and correctly to avoid complications.


In many cases, the outlook for those with dysrhythmia is good, especially if they make lifestyle changes to mitigate symptoms. However, if the person also has coronary artery disease, congestive heart failure, or other heart muscle disorders, the outlook may vary. Thankfully, the availability of permanent pacemakers, implanted defibrillation devices, and new medications have improved the prognosis for those with more serious heart conditions.

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