An arrhythmia is an irregular heartbeat or heart rate. Normal heart rates are around 50-100 beats per minute. Some people have problems with both heartbeats and heart rates, while others have just one or the other. More than 850,000 Americans are hospitalized with arrhythmia each year.

Types of Arrhythmias

  • Accessory Pathway Tachycardia: Fast heart rhythm; caused by an extra pathway between the upper and lower heart chambers
  • Atrial Fibrillation: Common; caused by the upper heart chambers contracting abnormally
  • Atrial Flutter: Linked to heart disease; can happen in the first week after heart surgery; commonly progresses to atrial fibrillation
  • AV Nodal Reentrant Tachycardia: Fast heartbeat; can cause fainting, palpitations and heart failure; treated with medication
  • Bradyarrhythmia: Slow heart rhythm; caused by a problem with the electrical impulses that control the heart’s pumping action.
  • Heart Block: Irregular, slow heartbeat; caused by an obstruction or delay of electrical impulses; treated with a pacemaker
  • Long QT Syndrome: Dangerous arrhythmias linked to sudden death; treated with defibrillators and drugs
  • Sinus Node Dysfunction: Slow heart rhythm; may be treated with a pacemaker
  • Paroxysmal Supraventricular Tachycardia (PSVT): Fast heart rate; starts in the part of the heart above the ventricles
  • Premature Atrial Contractions: Extra heartbeats; usually no treatment is necessary
  • Premature Ventricular Contractions (PVCs): Skipped heartbeats; one of the most common types of arrhythmias; caused by stress, excessive exercise, caffeine, nicotine or heart disease
  • Ventricular Fibrillation: Heart chambers quiver instead of contracting, causing blood to not be pumped to the body; emergency situation that requires CPR and defibrillation
  • Ventricular Tachycardia (V-tach): Fast heart rhythm which prevents the heart from filling with blood; dangerous condition

Causes of Arrhythmia

In addition to the those listed above, the following can also cause arrhythmias:

  • Electrolyte imbalance (usually sodium or potassium)
  • Healing after cardiac surgery
  • Injury from a heart attack
  • Heart disease or cardiac muscle change

Arrhythmias can also happen when the heart is healthy and there are no risk factors.

Symptoms of Arrhythmia

  • Palpitations
  • Chest pain, tightness or pounding
  • Dizziness, faintness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Extreme fatigue or weakness