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What is an arrhythmia?

Arrhythmias are irregular, or abnormally fast or slow, heartbeats. Some arrhythmias are serious. One example is ventricular fibrillation. This type of arrhythmia causes a severely abnormal heart rhythm that leads to death unless treated right away with an electrical shock to the heart (called defibrillation). Other arrhythmias are less severe, but can develop into more serious conditions such as atrial fibrillation.

Atrial fibrillation is a type of arrhythmia that can cause rapid, irregular beating of the heart's upper chambers. Blood may pool and clot inside the heart, increasing the risk for heart attack and stroke.

The normal cardiac rhythm is called "sinus rhythm" and the normal heart rate is 60 to 100 beats per minute. An arrhythmia occurs when the heart beats irregularly or abnormally slow (bradycardia) or fast (tachycardia). While many arrhythmias don't cause symptoms, some cause chest pain, dizziness, fainting and shortness of breath. Atherosclerosis, angina, valvular heart disease, weakened heart muscle (i.e., cardiomyopathy), blood clots, thyroid abnormalities or heart attack can cause this condition.

Medications can help stabilize heart rhythms. Abstaining from caffeine, alcohol and cigarette smoking can also help. Pacemakers are often recommended to correct a slow heart rhythm.

Arrhythmia refers to an irregular heartbeat. It may be too slow (brachycardia) or too fast (tachycardia), or it may skip a beat. Some are normal (everyone’s heart skips a beat now and then). Some are dangerous and require a doctor visit. Consult a doctor if they occur often.

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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.