Written By: Kent Hospital on February 7, 2022
Various forms of cardiac arrhythmia are common in older adults, with the most common form, atrial fibrillation, affecting as many as 6.1 million adults in the United States alone. Learn more about cardiac arrhythmia, what causes it, and how you can help yourself or a loved one who is experiencing symptoms.
Cardiac arrhythmia is any one of a number of conditions that cause the heart to beat in an irregular or abnormal manner which can create noticeable symptoms such as dizziness, shortness of breath, and fatigue.
Cardiac arrhythmias are divided into five different types:
Chronic cardiac arrhythmia can cause a broad range of symptoms, including:
While many arrhythmias are harmless and may not affect your life at all, some can increase your risk of a heart attack or a stroke. Some symptoms of arrhythmia can also mimic those of a heart attack.
Any arrhythmia should be monitored by your doctor, but there are things you can do to help control your symptoms:
Your doctor may prescribe medication to help control your arrhythmia which might include medication to directly assist your heart and blood thinners to reduce the risk of strokes. Most commonly, you will be prescribed beta-blockers, calcium channel blockers, or digitalis.
If these medications don't work, then your doctor might recommend a stronger medication, a procedure called electrical cardioversion (where low-level shocks are administered to push the heart back into normal rhythm), or surgery to disrupt the arrhythmia.
Another option for chronic arrhythmia, especially when your heart is beating too slowly, is an implanted pacemaker. There are a variety of types, and your doctor will recommend the right one for you. Pacemakers mimic the action of your natural electrical system, cutting in when needed to restore heart function. Newer pacemakers also help adjust heart function when you exercise.
Pacemakers run on batteries, which eventually have to be replaced. Some pacemakers have an external battery pack. Some medical procedures need to be avoided, as they can interfere with your pacemaker. Also, don't keep your cell phone in your shirt pocket.
Another implanted device that is sometimes used is an implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD). ICDs are used when you have sustained ventricular tachycardia or fibrillation to prevent heart attacks. In simple terms, pacemakers are for when your heart tends to beat too slowly, ICDs are for when it tends to beat too fast.
ICDs are generally the last resort for people with severe arrhythmia and a history of heart attacks. Some people may receive a device that serves as both a pacemaker and an ICD.
Cardiac arrhythmia is a common condition that can easily be treated to help alleviate symptoms that could be causing you pain or disrupting your life. Care New England offers cardiac care and expertise from an advanced team that has delivered care for every kind of heart and vascular condition. Thanks to a strong clinical affiliation with Brigham and Women’s Hospital, patients are provided with cardiologists considered among the best in the region. They are available to meet all cardiac needs, from the basic to the most complex.
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