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Dear Doctor: What is An Arrhythmia?

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Dear Reader:

An abnormal heart rhythm, known as arrhythmia, is when the heart beats too fast, too slow or irregularly. The heart is composed of a complicated system of valves, nodes and chambers that control how and when blood is pumped. If the rhythm is disrupted in any way, it can change the effectiveness of the heartbeat.

There are several different types of arrhythmia. The most common are:

Tachycardia – This is a heart rate that beats too fast.

Bradycardia – This means your heart beats very slowly (less than 60 BPM).

Atrial flutter –This typically occurs in the right atrium, one of the two upper chambers of the heart. It is caused by a single circular electrical impulse that travels rapidly in the affected atrium, resulting in a fast, but regular, heart rate.

Atrial fibrillation – It happens when multiple unstable electrical impulses misfire (usually in the left atrium), causing the heart rate to increase and become erratic, revealing irregular beats on an electrocardiogram.

Ventricular fibrillation – This condition can stop the heart muscle from beating and cause cardiac arrest. It occurs in the ventricles, where blood is pumped out of the heart to the body and brain. It is a serious condition that can lead to death if not immediately treated.

Premature contractions – Although benign, this is when early beats arise, frequently making the heart appear to skip a beat when the pulse is taken in the wrist or chest. The skipped beat may be so faint or weak that it is not felt in the pulse.

Should you experience any symptoms including palpitations or fluttering in the chest, a racing or slow heartbeat, chest pain or pressure, shortness of breath, dizziness, please speak with your healthcare provider. Arrhythmia is typically treated with medication, but there are other management approaches including catheter ablation procedures or implantable devices.

UT Physicians Health Center – Cinco Ranch is staffed with three cardiologists and located at 23923 Cinco Ranch Blvd. To schedule an appointment, call 713-486-5300.

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