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What is a heart arrhythmia?

A heart arrhythmia is a change in the normal heart rhythm. The heart normally goes "thump thump," which is evenly spaced from one beat to the next. The heart gets its cue to beat from a particular place in the heart -- the sinus node -- and tells the rest of the heart to beat in a particular sequence. When either the heart's cue to beat or the pathway of muscle contraction is altered, the heart's usual beating pattern can change. In some cases this can be normal, or not cause problems, and in others it can signify a serious health problem. If you are concerned you may have an arrhythmia, you should see your doctor for a physical exam.
Juliet Wilkinson
Oncology Nursing

Arrhythmia is a fancy word for irregular heartbeat. The term irregular simply means that the heart is not beating at a steady, regular pace. Extremely fast, slow and erratic heartbeats may be labeled irregular, however the patient's overall picture must be considered before jumping to conclusions. A runner, for instance, may be diagnosed with the arrhythmia of bradycardia -- or a heart rate less than 40 beats per minute. However, a slow heartbeat is normal in most athletes due to the strength of their heart muscle and supreme cardiovascular function.

Cardiac arrhythmias have myriad etiologies, from drinking too much caffeine to a peacemaking disorder within the heart. Some arrhythmias can be detected from simply taking a pulse -- the pulse will feel irregular, extremely fast or extremely slow. If you are concerned, see your doctor.

A cardiac arrhythmia is a malfunction in the heart’s electrical system that prevents the heart from pumping blood effectively. It causes the heart to beat rapidly or in an uncontrolled pattern.
If you look at the word arrhythmia, you can see that it has the word rhythm in it. A heart arrhythmia means that the heart does not beat with a normal rhythm. It might be too fast, too slow, or irregular. The heart has a built in electrical system that governs the heartbeat. Think, for example, of an artificial pacemaker. A pacemaker sends electrical impulses to your heart to tell it when to beat. A healthy heart naturally sends and receives these electrical impulses without an artificial device. If the heart’s natural electrical system is not working properly, an arrhythmia can result. Some arrhythmias can be very benign while others need immediate attention.
 

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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.