Learn About Arrhythmias

What is the definition of Arrhythmias?

An arrhythmia is a disorder of the heart rate (pulse) or heart rhythm. The heart can beat too fast (tachycardia), too slow (bradycardia), or irregularly.

An arrhythmia can be harmless, a sign of other heart problems, or an immediate danger to your health.

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What are the alternative names for Arrhythmias?

Abnormal heart rhythms; Bradycardia; Tachycardia; Fibrillation

What are the causes of Arrhythmias?

Normally, your heart works as a pump that brings blood to the lungs and the rest of the body.

To help this happen, your heart has an electrical system that makes sure it contracts (squeezes) in an orderly way.

  • The electrical impulse that signals your heart to contract begins in an area of the heart called the sinoatrial node (also called the sinus node or SA node). This is your heart’s natural pacemaker.
  • The signal leaves the SA node and travels through the heart along a set electrical pathway.
  • Different nerve messages signal your heart to beat slower or faster.

Arrhythmias are caused by problems with the heart's electrical conduction system.

  • Abnormal (extra) signals may occur.
  • Electrical signals may be blocked or slowed.
  • Electrical signals travel in new or different pathways through the heart.

Some common causes of abnormal heartbeats are:

  • Abnormal levels of potassium or other substances in the body
  • Heart attack, or a damaged heart muscle from a past heart attack
  • Heart disease that is present at birth (congenital)
  • Heart failure or an enlarged heart
  • Overactive thyroid gland

Arrhythmias may also be caused by some substances or drugs, including:

  • Alcohol or stimulant drugs
  • Certain medicines
  • Cigarette smoking (nicotine)

Some of the more common abnormal heart rhythms are:

  • Atrial fibrillation or flutter
  • Atrioventricular nodal reentry tachycardia (AVNRT)
  • Heart block or atrioventricular block
  • Multifocal atrial tachycardia
  • Paroxysmal supraventricular tachycardia
  • Sick sinus syndrome
  • Ventricular fibrillation or ventricular tachycardia
  • Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome
What are the symptoms of Arrhythmias?

When you have an arrhythmia, your heartbeat may be:

  • Too slow (bradycardia)
  • Too quick (tachycardia)
  • Irregular, uneven, possibly with extra or skipped beats

An arrhythmia may be present all of the time or it may come and go. You may or may not feel symptoms when the arrhythmia is present. Or, you may only notice symptoms when you are more active.

Symptoms can be very mild, or they may be severe or even life threatening.

Common symptoms that may occur when the arrhythmia is present could include:

  • Chest pain
  • Fainting
  • Lightheadedness, dizziness
  • Paleness
  • Palpitations (feeling your heart beat fast or irregularly)
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sweating
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What are the current treatments for Arrhythmias?

When an arrhythmia is serious, you may need urgent treatment to restore a normal rhythm. This may include:

  • Electrical therapy (defibrillation or cardioversion)
  • Implanting a short-term heart pacemaker
  • Medicines given through a vein or by mouth

Sometimes, better treatment for your angina or heart failure will lower your chance of having an arrhythmia.

Medicines called anti-arrhythmic drugs may be used:

  • To prevent an arrhythmia from happening again
  • To keep your heart rate from becoming too fast or too slow

Some of these medicines can have side effects. Take them as prescribed by your provider. DO NOT stop taking the medicine or change the dose without first talking to your provider.

Other treatments to prevent or treat abnormal heart rhythms include:

  • Cardiac ablation, used to target areas in your heart that may be causing your heart rhythm problems
  • An implantable cardioverter defibrillator, placed in people who are at high risk of sudden cardiac death
  • Permanent pacemaker, a device that senses when your heart is beating too slowly. It sends a signal to your heart that makes your heart beat at the correct pace.
Who are the top Arrhythmias Local Doctors?
Highly rated in
Cardiac Electrophysiology

Medical University of South Carolina Health System

Ashley River Tower

25 Courtenay Dr 
Charleston, SC 29425

Michael Gold is a Cardiac Electrophysiologist and a Cardiologist in Charleston, South Carolina. Dr. Gold has been practicing medicine for over 37 years and is rated as an Elite doctor by MediFind in the treatment of Arrhythmias. He is also highly rated in 34 other conditions, according to our data. His top areas of expertise are Arrhythmias, Atrial Fibrillation, Heart Failure, and Cardiomyopathy. He is licensed to treat patients in South Carolina. Dr. Gold is currently accepting new patients.

Highly rated in
Cardiac Electrophysiology


Cardiovascular Institute

1454 S County Trl 
East Greenwich, RI 2818

Antony Chu is a Cardiac Electrophysiologist and a Cardiologist in East Greenwich, Rhode Island. Dr. Chu has been practicing medicine for over 20 years and is rated as an Elite doctor by MediFind in the treatment of Arrhythmias. He is also highly rated in 23 other conditions, according to our data. His top areas of expertise are Atrial Fibrillation, Arrhythmias, Ventricular Tachycardia, and Cardiomyopathy. He is licensed to treat patients in Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and New Jersey. Dr. Chu is currently accepting new patients.

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Highly rated in
Cardiac Electrophysiology

UVA Health System

Specialty Care Augusta

57 Beam Ln 
Fishersville, VA 22939

Kenneth Bilchick is a Cardiac Electrophysiologist and a Cardiologist in Fishersville, Virginia. Dr. Bilchick has been practicing medicine for over 23 years and is rated as an Elite doctor by MediFind in the treatment of Arrhythmias. He is also highly rated in 30 other conditions, according to our data. His top areas of expertise are Heart Failure, Arrhythmias, Ventricular Tachycardia, and Atrial Fibrillation. He is licensed to treat patients in Maryland and Virginia. Dr. Bilchick is currently accepting new patients.

What is the outlook (prognosis) for Arrhythmias?

The outcome depends on several factors:

  • The kind of arrhythmia you have.
  • Whether you have coronary artery disease, heart failure, or valvular heart disease.
When should I contact a medical professional for Arrhythmias?

Call your provider if:

  • You develop any of the symptoms of a possible arrhythmia.
  • You have been diagnosed with an arrhythmia and your symptoms worsen or DO NOT improve with treatment.
How do I prevent Arrhythmias?

Taking steps to prevent coronary artery disease may reduce your chance of developing an arrhythmia.

Heart - section through the middle
Heart - front view
Normal heart rhythm
Ventricular tachycardia
Atrioventricular block - ECG tracing
Conduction system of the heart
What are the latest Arrhythmias Clinical Trials?
Pilot Randomized Trial With Flecainide in ARVC Patients
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Derivation of Human Induced Pluripotent Stem (iPS) Cells to Heritable Cardiac Arrhythmias (Long QT Syndrome, Brugada Syndrome, CPVT and Early Repolarization Syndrome)
What are the Latest Advances for Arrhythmias?
Acute haematogenous periprosthetic joint infection due to Streptococcus sanguinis along with coexistent crystalline arthropathy after total knee arthroplasty: a rare combination.
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Treatment of Macro-Reentry Atrial Tachycardia with Very High-Power, Short-Duration, Temperature-Controlled Ablation of Anterior Line Using an Open-Irrigated Ablation Catheter with Microelectrodes.
Who are the sources who wrote this article ?

Published Date : July 07, 2020
Published By : Thomas S. Metkus, MD, Assistant Professor of Medicine and Surgery, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, MD. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

What are the references for this article ?

Al-Khatib SM, Stevenson WG, Ackerman MJ, et al. 2017 AHA/ACC/HRS guideline for management of patients with ventricular arrhythmias and the prevention of sudden cardiac death: Executive summary: A Report of the American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association Task Force on Clinical Practice Guidelines and the Heart Rhythm Society. Heart Rhythm. 2018;15(10):e190-e252. PMID: 29097320 pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29097320/.

Olgin JE. Approach to the patient with suspected arrhythmia. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 26th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 56.

Tomaselli GF, Rubart M, Zipes DP. Mechanisms of cardiac arrhythmias. In: Zipes DP, Libby P, Bonow RO, Mann DL, Tomaselli GF, Braunwald E, eds. Braunwald's Heart Disease: A Textbook of Cardiovascular Medicine. 11th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2019:chap 34.

Tracy CM, Epstein AE, Darbar D, et al. 2012 ACCF/AHA/HRS focused update of the 2008 guidelines for device-based therapy of cardiac rhythm abnormalities: a report of the American College of Cardiology Foundation/American Heart Association Task Force on Practice Guidelines. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2012;60(14):1297-1313. PMID: 22975230 pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22975230/.