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What are the symptoms of a cardiac arrhythmia?

Dr. Vivek Y. Reddy, MD
Cardiac Electrophysiologist

Occasionally people experience palpitations or heightened awareness of their heartbeat. It is common for the heart to race during exertion or emotional stress.

When the rhythm disturbances are prolonged or linger, they may be clues to an underlying heart condition. Certain abnormal heartbeats can be life threatening, even in the absence of overt heart disease symptoms. Watch for the following signs associated with palpitations and see a doctor if they persist:

  • Fatigue
  • Long pauses between heartbeats
  • Unusual sweating
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • Light-headedness and dizziness
  • Fainting
Dr. Imran A. Niazi, MD
Cardiac Electrophysiologist

Cardiac arrhythmia refers to an irregular heart action. The normal heartbeat is even and regular, and the rate at rest is about 70 beats per minute. Heart rhythm disorders can cause palpitations (when extra beats occur), fainting (when the heartbeat slows or stops, or goes dangerously fast). At times, patients feel their heart racing uncontrollably, again due to a rapid heartbeat disorder, or tachycardia.

In severe cases, the arrhythmia may manifest as cardiac arrest. In fact, arrhythmias are the most common cause of the nearly 400,000 deaths due to cardiac arrest every year in the U.S.

Common symptoms are a rapid heartbeat, difficulty catching one's breath, feeling light-headed, heart pounding, and palipations.

There are many different symptoms associated with cardiac arrhythmias or irregular heart rate.  However, sometimes there are no symptoms at all and the arrhythmia is found incidentally.

Some of the symptoms associated with cardiac arrythmias are heart palpitations, dizziness, light-headedness, and shortness of breath.  Other more serious symptoms can be loss of consciousness (passing out), chest pain or pressure, and occasionally sudden death if the arrhythmia originates from the ventricles (the major pumping chambers of the heart).

Symptoms of a stroke may occur if a clot forms on the left side of the heart due to an arrhythmia.  These symptoms could include: weakness or loss of function of an arm or a leg; difficulties with speech; or differences in the symmetry of the face when the patient smiles.

Dr. Douglas E. Severance, MD
Family Practitioner

Some people have no symptoms of a heart arrhythmia. Other people with heart arrhythmias have noticeable symptoms, such as chest pain or fainting. Often a doctor will detect the arrhythmia during a routine physical examination. If you have a heart arrhythmia, you might notice a rapid heartbeat (tachycardia) or a slower heartbeat (bradycardia). You may experience palpitations, which can feel like fluttering or pounding in your chest. Some people with atrial fibrillation get chest pain and have difficulty breathing. You may also experience dizziness or fainting (called syncope).

Symptoms of a cardiac arrhythmia, or cardiac rhythm disturbance, can vary, depending on the type and severity. An arrhythmia may feel like a fluttering sensation in the chest, such as a palpitation. A person also may feel “extra” heart beats as if the heart is beating more often than it should.

Tachycardia may feel like the heart is racing or beating very fast. Bradycardia and bradyarrhythmias cause the heart to beat more slowly so the person may feel sluggish or like the heart is beating very slowly. People also may feel as though their heart is “skipping” beats or not beating as often as it should.

Other symptoms include:

  • fatigue
  • dizziness
  • lightheadedness
  • sweating
  • fainting
  • shortness of breath
  • chest pain

This content originally appeared online in "The Patient Guide to Heart, Lung, and Esophageal Surgery" from the Society of Thoracic Surgery.

Many arrhythmias cause no signs or symptoms. When signs or symptoms are present, the most common ones are:
  • Palpitations (feelings that your heart is skipping a beat, fluttering, or beating too hard or fast)
  • A slow heartbeat
  • An irregular heartbeat
  • Feeling pauses between heartbeats
More serious signs and symptoms include:
  • Anxiety
  • Weakness, dizziness, and lightheadedness
  • Fainting or nearly fainting
  • Sweating
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
This answer from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute has been reviewed and/or edited by Dr. William D. Knopf.
Some arrhythmias do not cause any symptoms or are imperceptible. Other arrhythmias cause a noticeable change in heartbeat. This may feel like a fluttering, palpitation, racing, or slowing sensation, depending on the type of arrhythmia. Other symptoms include chest pain, dizziness, fainting, shortness of breath, and light-headedness.

Some of the more noticeable symptoms of cardiac arrhythmia include fainting, dizziness, sensation of light-headedness, sensation of heart fluttering, sensation of a missed or extra heart beat, weakness, fatigue, shortness-of-breath, chest pain, and an intolerance for activity. It is important to note that not all arrhythmias have symptoms.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.