What is arrhythmia?
Heart arrhythmia, or cardiac arrhythmia, is an abnormal rhythm of the heart. Let’s get to know its causes, types, treatment and how you can prevent it and treat it naturally.
As we mentioned above, during an arrhythmia the heart beats too fast (tachycardia), too slowly (bradycardia) or irregularly. In other words, an arrhythmia is a problem with the rate of the heartbeat. Scientifics also refer to arrhythmia as “dysrhythmia“. Both words mean the same but arrhythmia is more prevalent.
Often people who had one episode of arrhythmia (generally due to alcohol, drugs, acute illness or electrolyte abnormalities) may have more in their lifetime but most arrhythmias are harmless. Still, you should always have regular checkups with your doctor, especially if you feel your heart beating out of its typical rhythm (with extra or fast heartbeats or as if it skips a beat).
We said that arrhythmia is an abnormal rhythm of the heart, but what is a normal heartbeat?
Heart rate varies between individuals, but usually a person will have a healthy resting heart rate of between 60 and 100 bpm (beats per minute). Doctors count the number of times the heart beats every minute during rest, this is known as resting heart rate.
Athletes have a resting heartbeat of less than 60bpm, since their hearts are in optimal condition; you may infer now that the fitter a person is, the lower their resting heart rate becomes.
Can I measure my heart rate at home? Of course! We can use our pulse, a point at which we can feel our heartbeat through our skin, for example:
- Insides of elbows
- Side of the neck
- Top of the foot
Most arrhythmias are not severe and do not cause complications. However, we should know the causes, since some of them increase the risk of stroke or cardiac arrest. Some factors that may result in the heart working incorrectly are:
- Drug abuse, substance use disorder
- Alcohol abuse
- Too much coffee
- High blood pressure
- Heart disease
- Hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism
- Some medications (prescription medications and over-the-counter drugs)
- Certain dietary supplements
- Scarring of the heart due to a heart attack
- Being 65 years of age or older
Arrhythmia symptoms differ depending on the type, but generally, arrhythmia symptoms include:
- Fainting (syncope) or near fainting
- Chest pain
- Sudden weakness
- Trouble concentrating
- Profuse sweating
If you experience these symptoms, contact your doctor, who will interview you to know about your medical history, family history, diet, lifestyle and perform some tests to diagnose you correctly. Some tests to diagnose an arrhythmia are: blood and urine, EKG, echocardiogram, chest X-ray, a Holter monitor, a tilt-table test, electrophysiologic testing, and heart catheterization.
If we have arrhythmia, our heartbeats differ from normal ones in speed or rhythm. These arrhythmias are classified according to where they occur (upper or lower chambers of the heart or between them). The main types of arrhythmia are:
- Bradyarrhytmia (it is a heart rate of fewer than 60 beats per minute)
- Premature or extra heartbeat
- Supraventricular arrhythmia (when the arrhythmias begin in the atria or upper chambers)
- Ventricular arrhythmia (this one begins in the ventricles or the lower chambers)
- Tachycardia (more than 100 beats per minute)
Treatment for arrhythmia is not necessary unless the condition is severe. A doctor will identify if there is an underlying problem causing the abnormal heartbeat, for example for bradycardia, implanting a pacemaker may be necessary. In the case of tachycardia, treatments include vagal maneuvers, medications, cardioversion, ablation therapy, maze procedure, ventricular aneurysm surgery (if there is an aneurysm), coronary bypass surgery.
Arrhythmia: How to Prevent it
Some arrhythmias cannot be prevented, so we recommend you have regular checkups with your doctor. If you were prescripted some medicines, follow them thoroughly. Ask your doctor before taking other drugs or cold and cough medicines, since they can trigger arrhythmia.
There are some lifestyle changes you can incorporate to prevent arrhythmia:
- Do not smoke
- Eat a healthy diet, with plenty of fruits and vegetables, fish and plant-based proteins
- Avoid saturated and trans fat, junk food
- Keep a healthy weight
- Find a positive way to manage your stress
- Control your cholesterol and blood pressure
- Limit your intake of caffeine and alcohol
- Be careful with supplements like cola nut, guarana, ephedra and creatine
Arrhythmia: General Tips
If you have been diagnosed, there are a few ways to care for your condition apart from the medicines you were prescribed.
Always consult your doctor about starting up new activities, especially competitive sports, you will probably be recommended low or moderate physical activity.
Carry a medical device ID card, if you have a defibrillator or pacemaker.
Check with your doctor before taking over-the-counter medicines, nutritional supplements or cold and allergy medicines.
Learn how to take your pulse.
If you feel dizzy or faint and feel palpitations, lie down.
Arrhythmia: Alternative treatments
Here we present you with some complementary treatments, although you should always check with your doctor before implementing one.
Some recommended options are:
- Eating two servings per week of omega-3 fatty acids (present in fish, such as salmon, mackerel, herring, sardines and albacore tuna)
- Vitamin C, due to un anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties
- Magnesium and potassium, these help keep your heart stable
Other supplements like calcium, corydalis, valerian, skullcap, lady’s slipper and hawthorn (a herb). These options may be helpful but research about their effectiveness is inconclusive.
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