What are the different types of heart rhythm problems?

Dr. David K. Singh, MD
Cardiologist (Heart Specialist)

Heart rhythm disorders can be loosely classified into two basic problems: Either the heart rhythm is too slow or it is too fast. Atrial fibrillation is the most common condition in the latter category. The electrical system becomes erratic and causes the heart to beat irregularly. The consequence of this is that blood becomes static in the upper chambers of the heart and can cause a blood clot, which can lead to stroke. Patients with atrial fibrillation may also experience fatigue, shortness of breath and chest pain.

As we age the electrical system of the heart, which is responsible for how fast the heart beats, can become fatigued, resulting in an inappropriately low heart rate. Individuals with this condition can feel faint, light-headed or short of breath. If there is a reversible cause for this, like a medication or a virus, the heart rate may improve on its own or with proper treatment. If doctors can’t find a reversible cause, they may recommend a pacemaker.

One of the most common heart dysrhythmias/arrhythmias (abnormal rhythms) is premature ventricular beats, or PVCs. PVCs are just what they sound like: the ventricles beat sooner than they should. This means that the ventricle is contracting and pumping out blood before the atrium above it has completely pumped its blood volume into the ventricle. Most of the time, PVCs are harmless. In fact, almost everyone has them at one time or another. However, if PVCs occur too frequently (more than several times per minute), the heart is unable to pump an adequate volume of blood to the body, which can cause symptoms such as weakness, fatigue, palpitations, or low blood pressure.

Other types of rhythm problems can have similar effects. Problems may occur when the heart beats too fast, too slow, or with an irregular rhythm. But whether the heart is beating too fast, too slow, or too irregularly, the effects are often the same as one or more of those described above. Some additional examples of rhythm problems include:

  • Atrial fibrillation—occurs when the atria beat irregularly and too fast
  • Ventricular fibrillation—occurs when the ventricles beat irregularly and too fast
  • Bradycardia—occurs when the heart beats too slow
  • Tachycardia—occurs when the heart beats too fast
  • Heart block—occurs when the electrical signal is delayed or blocked after leaving the sinoatrial (SA) node. There are several types of heart blocks, and each one has a distinctive electrocardiogram (ECG) tracing.

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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.