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Arrhythmia (Irregular Heartbeats)

Baystate Health offers patients with any kind of irregular heartbeat — including AFib, ventricular fibrillation, bradycardia, and tachycardia —comprehensive and state-of-the-art treatment options, right here in Western Massachusetts.

The electrical system in your heart controls your heart rate (how many times your heart beats in a minute) and your heart rhythm (how regularly your heart beats). If your heartbeat is irregular, you have an arrhythmia.

You can have a healthy heart and still have an arrhythmia. Some arrhythmias are harmless. Others may be the sign of heart problems or be caused by a heart attack or heart surgery. Certain arrhythmias are very dangerous and require help immediately.

The most common kinds of arrhythmias include:

  • Tachycardia, which means your heart beats too fast.
  • Bradycardia, also called bradyarrhythmia, means your heart beats too slowly.
  • Ventricular arrhythmias happen in the ventricles (lower heart chambers).
  • Supraventricular arrhythmias happen usually in the atria (upper heart chambers).

Risk Factors

There are many different factors that may cause an arrhythmia in your heart. These include:

  • Having a heart attack
  • Congenital heart disease
  • Electrolyte imbalance
  • Blocked arteries (coronary artery disease)
  • High blood pressure
  • Overactive thyroid gland (hyperthyroidism)
  • Underactive thyroid gland (hypothyroidism)
  • Smoking
  • Drinking too much alcohol or caffeine
  • Drug abuse
  • Stress
  • Certain medications, including certain over-the-counter cold and allergy drugs
  • A family history of heart problems

Diagnosis

You may not feel an irregular heartbeat. Often, your doctor will notice it in a routine checkup.

If you do have symptoms of an arrhythmia, you may experience:

  • A racing heartbeat
  • Chest pain (angina)
  • Shortness of breath
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Sweating

In addition to a physical exam, you might need these tests to diagnose an irregular heart beat:

  • Echocardiogram
  • Electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG)
  • Chest X-ray
  • Stress test
  • Tilt table test
  • Implantable loop recorder

Treatment

Medications are available to manage arrhythmias. Additionally, cardioversions help regulate your heart beat by sending electric shocks to your heart through electrodes placed on your chest.

Your doctor may recommend a procedure to implant a pacemaker or defibrillator. Common treatments for arrhythmia include:

  • Pacemaker — This small device is implanted under the skin of your upper chest and corrects your heart's rhythm. Cardiac resynchronization therapy (CRT), uses a special kind of pacemaker, called a biventricular pacemaker. CRT is also known as biventricular pacing.
  • Implantable defibrillator — An implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) is a battery-powered device that is implanted under the skin of your chest or abdomen. Wires connect your heart to the ICD, which lets the device monitor your heart rhythm. If your heart beats irregularly, the ICD gives your heart an electrical charge to return it to normal. A specific type of ICD, known as CRT-D, helps the pumping action of your heart muscles. This treatment is called cardiac resynchronization therapy (CRT).
  • Catheter ablation — Electrodes at the end of a catheter are used to damage (ablate) the part of your heart that is sending bad electric signals and causing your arrhythmia.