At an average of 80 beats per minute, your heart will beat more than 100,000 times per day, every day from the day you are born until the day you die. Since heart rate is not something we consciously control with our actions, we often take for granted that our heart will continue to beat slowly and steadily throughout the day. Yet when your heart begins to beat in a way that is out of the ordinary, quick action can be the difference between life or death.
Tachycardia, Bradycardia, Fibrillation, Oh My!
Tachycardia, arrhythmia, and fibrillation are medical terms that refer to the way the heart beats. Each one is diagnosed with a 12-lead ECG, each one is associated with certain symptoms, and each one is treated differently in a hospital setting.
Your heart beats in a very distinctive rhythm. Anything outside of the normal heartbeat is considered an arrhythmia. When an adult’s heart beats more than 100 beats per minute (BPM), it is in tachycardia. (In infants and toddlers, 100 BPM is considered within normal limits.) When this happens, some people have no symptoms while others experience dizziness, fainting, shortness of breath, chest tightness, or fatigue.
When an adult’s heart beats slower than 60 BPM, they are considered in bradycardia. Some people experience no other symptoms while others have crushing fatigue, fainting spells, or dizziness. Typically, bradycardia is treated with medications and lifestyle changes aimed at helping blood pump more effectively throughout the body.
Typically, during tachycardia and bradycardia, the heart is beating in a normal pattern, just too fast for the blood to reach the rest of the body or too slowly for it to effectively return to the heart for oxygenation. During fibrillation, the heart does not beat in the usual pattern but instead flutters rather than pumps. Fibrillation can happen in the atria of the heart, which increases blood clot and stroke risk, or the ventricles where it is always life-threatening. During ventricular fibrillation, a defibrillator is always used to try to bring the heart back into a normal pattern.
What is cardioversion?
Cardioversion is a medical procedure performed in a hospital for people experiencing atrial fibrillation or tachycardia. During the procedure, you are sedated, and electrodes are placed on your chest. Through these electrodes, a series of electric shocks are given to your heart which brings your heart back into a normal rhythm. Once the procedure is over, your doctor can see immediately if your heart has begun beating regularly.
What is the difference between cardioversion and defibrillation?
Defibrillation is only performed when someone is in ventricular fibrillation. Someone in atrial fibrillation or with tachycardia will not respond to defibrillation. As dramatic as it is to see someone yell, “Clear,” on TV, this defibrillation is only used in emergencies when it is called for. On the other hand, cardioversion can be done in an emergency, but it can also be scheduled as an outpatient procedure and can be performed with a manual defibrillator that has pacing capabilities. For more information on defibrillator models that are capable of cardioversion, contact the equipment experts at Foremost Medical Equipment today.