Arrhythmia: Symptoms, Causes and Treatment

What is an arrhythmia?

An arrhythmia is a disturbance in the electrical function of the heart. The heart is a muscle that needs electricity that is synchronous. This synchronicity is sometimes lost or the conduction between the cardiac chambers may also be lost and this causes different types of symptoms. There are arrhythmias that are due to reduced contractility, as well as reduced heart rate, and then there are arrhythmias that are the opposite, where the heart goes too fast because of the extra stimuli.

Symptoms and types of arrhythmia

The symptoms that usually appear are different depending on the type of arrhythmia.

  • The arrhythmia that is of the slow type, i.e. blockages, usually causes dizziness, loss of consciousness or syncope. Syncope is a total loss of consciousness with falls, and this obviously has its dangers.
  • High-frequency arrhythmias: the most common is called atrial fibrillation, which appears in patients with atrial involvement. This usually causes dyssynchrony, i.e. loss of synchronicity of contractions. The most common symptomatology is the appearance of palpitations, loss of exercise capacity, etc.

What are the causes of arrhythmia?

The causes depend on the type of arrhythmia mentioned above.

If they are arrhythmias of slow frequency, they are usually referred to pathologies: due to fibrosis of the conduction tissue, due to aging of this tissue or of congenital origin. Those due to aging and fibrosis appear more frequently in older patients, while those of congenital origin are usually seen in younger patients.

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High frequency arrhythmias have two possible causes. In many cases they are conditioned or related to ischemic heart problems, i.e., there has been a lack of irrigation of the muscle, such as heart attacks. These can cause arrhythmias that can become dangerous. Then there are also the most frequent arrhythmias, which are atrial arrhythmias. These appear more frequently in patients with heart valve involvement, mainly of the mitral valve, which causes enlargement of the atrium with loss of its function.

Can there be triggering factors?

The main reasons for an arrhythmia are stress and excess of exciting products. But there are other factors such as:

  • Excess alcoholic beverages
  • Excessive use of stimulant drinks (coffee or similar).
  • Tobacco consumption
  • Associated diseases, such as hypertension or neurological diseases.

When should we see a specialist?

The first thing to do when someone suspects they have an arrhythmia is to go to a specialist, logically. The suspicion comes when one has a repeated dizziness, spontaneously, which we call syncope. It can also be, in the case of rapid arrhythmias, repeated palpitations that appear unrelated to exertion.

How should an arrhythmia be treated?

The treatments are variable, depending on whether they are of slow or fast frequencies.

Slow rate arrhythmias are treated as standard with the implantation of a pacemaker. The pacemaker or bypass is an electronic device that detects whether the heart is beating as it should. If the rate is slow, the device stimulates the heart to operate at a minimum rate.

For fast arrhythmias there are two types of treatment:

  1. Arrhythmias of atrial origin, such as atrial fibrillation, are the most common and are usually treated with medication alone. The medication slows down the heart rate and is often combined with anticoagulant treatment. This is because thrombi, i.e. clots, can form inside the heart cavity, which can shoot out with the circulation and cause an embolism.
  2. High-frequency ventricular arrhythmias, which are the most dangerous, are treated with the implantation of devices similar to pacemakers. These devices, in addition to causing a shock, deliver a high-voltage electrical discharge that allows the heart to return to its slower rate. These devices are more complex and, in these cases, it shows that there is a slightly more serious pathology.