Also known as arrhythmias or irregular heartbeats, a cardiac rhythm disorder refers to a condition where the heart beats too fast, too slow, or irregularly. All these abnormalities affect the amount of blood pumped from the heart to the rest of the body. While some episodes of arrhythmia do not cause symptoms, the disorder may lead to dizziness and chest discomfort. If left untreated, they also increase the risk of stroke, heart attack, and heart failure amongst many other cardiac conditions.
Heart rhythm disorders can be caused by three broad categories, mainly electrical, circulatory or structural.
Before moving on, let’s first discuss how the normal heartbeat is generated. The heart beats in response to electrical signals which start at the sinoatrial (SA) node. It is the heart’s natural pacemaker and is located at the right atria (upper chamber). The electric signal moves across the atria, into the AV (atrioventricular) node, and finally to the ventricles (bottom chamber or the main pumping chamber). The electric signal causes the chambers to contract, pumping blood from the atria into the ventricles, and from the ventricles to the lungs and other body parts. In healthy adults, the heart beats 60-100 times per minute.
Some episodes of cardiac rhythms disorders may not cause any symptoms. It is more often recognised during a medical evaluation for other conditions. However, some symptoms that suggest arrhythmia include:
If you experience any of the symptoms mentioned above, it is best to consult a heart doctor immediately. Some types of arrhythmia can cause a dramatic drop in blood pressure and are life-threatening if not treated promptly. Episodes may come and go, or be persistent. Regardless, do visit a doctor for a proper diagnosis and treatment for your condition.
As previously mentioned, arrhythmia could mean that the heart beats too fast or too slow:
The most common heart rhythm disorder is Atrial Fibrillation, often called AFib or AF. This refers to rapid or irregular contractions in the atria, which could lead to clots and eventually, stroke or heart failure.
It is important to note that if you experience arrhythmia that is severe or unexpected, or accompanied by dizziness or tightness in your chest, please call an ambulance immediately.
Heart palpitations are feelings or sensations of your heart pounding or beating very quickly, and can often be felt in the chest, throat and neck. They are quite common and do not always indicate an abnormality in the heart. Heart palpitations can be linked to:
Syncope refers to the sudden loss of consciousness, which often happens because of low blood pressure (hypotension) and the heart does not pump enough oxygen-rich blood to the brain.
Although a single fainting spell may not indicate a serious condition, syncope could be a warning sign of serious life-threatening conditions. If you have a recurrent loss of consciousness without warning or provocations you should consult your cardiologist.
Sudden cardiac death, or cardiac arrest, is a condition where a malfunction in the heart’s electrical system disrupts the heart’s pumping action, which, in turn, stops blood flow to the body. There are warning signs such as:
If you experience these symptoms, call an ambulance immediately. Conversely, if you see someone suffer from cardiac arrest, please call an ambulance and use a portable Automated External Defibrillator (AED), often located around malls and lifts near Singapore.
While some episodes may come without symptoms or are one-off occurrences, heart rhythm disorders are not to be brushed off. Some arrhythmias are linked to an increased risk of blood clotting. As such, it also increases the risks of stroke, heart failure, and sudden death.
There are different types of treatment methods, which depend on the type of arrhythmia and its cause. This could include:
If you experience symptoms of arrhythmia, you should book an appointment with a cardiologist. However, if you experience persistent arrhythmia, fainting, shortness of breath, or chest pain, you should visit the emergency room immediately.
To prepare for your consultation, you should:
Above discussing your symptoms and medical history, your doctor may also recommend you to take certain tests, such as:
Arrhythmias may reoccur and it is important to continue managing your condition. This includes:
This is important as arrhythmias are linked to various other heart conditions that may be life-threatening. Take note of your follow-up schedule and visit the hospital immediately if you experience persistent symptoms.
While most cases of arrhythmia in itself do not come with any symptoms, the condition is linked to various other conditions and thus should not be brushed off or taken lightly. If you experience any symptoms, book a consultation for a proper diagnosis of your condition and figure out the treatment method that will be most effective for your case. With early diagnosis and proper management, you can keep your condition under control and avoid complications.
Dr Devinder Singh is the Medical Director of Cadence Heart Centre. He is an experienced Senior Consultant Cardiologist & Cardiac Electrophysiologist with over 20 years of clinical experience.
His expertise lies in clinical cardiology, cardiac rhythm disorders (arrhythmia), cardiac pacing (including cardiac resynchronisation therapy) and cardiac magnetic resonance imaging. He performs electrophysiology studies and radiofrequency ablation of cardiac arrhythmias, and is well versed in pacemaker and deﬁbrillator insertions.
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