To say that your heart is hard-working would be a gross understatement — each day it beats 100,000 times and pumps 2,000 gallons of nutrient- and oxygen-rich blood throughout your body. Any disruption in this system has the potential to lead to problems, and an arrhythmia certainly qualifies as a disruption.
At Cardiovascular Institute of America, Dr. Muthu Velusamy, MD is a board-certified cardiologist who specializes in diagnosing and treating arrhythmias, helping our patients stay one step ahead of their heart health.
Here’s a look at what an arrhythmia is and when it may be dangerous.
When we refer to an arrhythmia, we’re referring to an electrical problem in your heart that causes an irregular heartbeat. Your heart is composed of four chambers — two upper chambers called atria, which pump blood into two lower chambers called ventricles, which are responsible for sending your blood into your lungs or into your body.
The beat of your heart is controlled by your sinus node, which is located in the right atrium of your heart. This node creates an electrical impulse that initiates your heartbeat by causing the muscles in your atria to contract. This impulse is slowed before it reaches your ventricles, allowing these chambers to fill with blood first. The pulse then picks up again to contract your ventricles, sending blood into your lungs or into circulation throughout your body.
If you have an arrythmia, the problem can lead to either a heartbeat that’s too fast (tachycardia) or too slow (bradycardia). And these problems can originate in different areas of your heart, further complicating the problem.
To give you an idea of how many different types of arrhythmias there are, here’s a list of the most common:
- Atrial fibrillation — a rapid heartbeat caused by irregular electrical impulses in your atria
- Ventricular fibrillation — irregular contractions in your ventricles
- Premature heartbeats — an extra beat in your heart
- Sick sinus syndrome — your sinus node isn’t functioning properly, leading to tachycardia or bradycardia
- Conduction issues — a blockage along your heart’s electrical pathways
This list is by no means comprehensive, but it demonstrates the many different forms that an arrhythmia can take.
When an arrhythmia is cause for concern
While it’s perfectly normal for your heart rate to increase or decrease (think about exercising or sleeping, respectively), when these issues are present outside of these circumstances, there’s always cause for concern.
A normal heart rate is 60 to 100 beats per minute, so when an arrhythmia forces these numbers too low or too high, you run two primary risks:
- Overworking your heart
- Not getting enough oxygen
This is a terribly simple explanation for a very complex problem, and whether your arrhythmia is dangerous or not depends upon your unique circumstances. For example, some people are unaware that they even have an arrhythmia and lead perfectly normal lives with an irregular heartbeat. In other cases, however, the problem may stem from (or lead to) serious cardiovascular issues that require medical attention and oversight.
The bottom line is that it’s impossible for us to say whether your arrhythmia is dangerous, but we certainly prefer to err on the side of caution when it comes to matters of the heart.
The best way to know for sure is to have us perform an extensive evaluation to determine your risks for developing complications. From there, we can recommend an appropriate treatment plan for your arrhythmia, which can range from simple lifestyle changes to implanting a pacemaker.
To better understand your arrhythmia, please contact one of our offices in Citrus Park, Lutz, and Tampa, Florida, to set up an appointment.