As miraculous as the heart is, the stress of beating, on average, 80 times per minute, 4,800 times an hour, 115,200 times per day can take its toll. This is especially true of a heart that is stressed by a poor diet, sedentary lifestyle, illness, or chemical imbalance in the body.
What is Arrhythmia?
Arrhythmia is any irregularity in the normal electrical sequences that cause your heart to beat. If often feels like your heart is beating too slow, too fast, or without a regular pattern. When an arrhythmia happens, your body is not receiving the oxygenated blood it needs to perform all of its necessary functions. However, safeguard systems within the heart send electrical impulses to move the heart back into a normal rhythm on its own.
You can check if you have arrhythmia with an ECG/EKG.
When Should I Worry About an Arrhythmia?
Most people experience an arrhythmia at some point in their lives, especially as they age. Millions of people every year experience arrhythmia and in most cases, without any other significant symptoms. Many report premature heartbeats that result in a feeling of “fluttering” in their neck or chest. Others report feeling a palpitation as though their heart “skipped a beat.”
When these symptoms last for a few seconds, there is generally no cause for concern. However, if they last longer than a few seconds, are accompanied by dizziness, shortness of breath, chest pain, or fainting, or if they are happening more frequently, it is important to visit a doctor right away. They will conduct tests for heart disease and other medical conditions that could lead to sudden cardiac arrest or stroke.
How are Arrhythmias Treated?
If your doctor determines that there is no significant risk from your arrhythmia, they will generally give you instructions for limiting your risk factors. This may include eating a diet high in fiber and low in saturated fats, lowering your blood pressure, maintaining a healthy weight, avoiding tobacco, and limiting your caffeine intake. If your doctor feels that your arrhythmia puts you at risk for heart attack or stroke, they will generally manage it through medication as well as suggesting lifestyle changes that will help your heart beat more effectively.
In extreme cases, some patients may need a pacemaker or implanted cardioverter device surgically implanted into their chest, with electrodes connected to their heart. Both devices are designed to shock the heart back into normal rhythm when it begins fibrillating or moving without effectively pumping blood. However, due to the risks involved with surgery, these devices are only used in cases where other less invasive treatment options have failed.
In an organ that will beat hundreds of thousands of times every day, an arrhythmia is bound to happen from time to time, especially as we age. However, they are not to be taken lightly. If you have concerns about arrhythmia, talk to your doctor. They can give you advice on how to self-monitor your heart, document the times when you have an arrhythmia, and help you determine if you need further medical attention.