Heart Rhythm Disorders (Arrhythmias)
Heart Rhythm Disorders Definition and Overview
A heart rhythm disorder is an abnormal variation from the normal heartbeat. Heart rhythm disorders involve abnormalities of one or more of the following: heart rate, regularity of beats, sites where electrical impulses originate, or sequence of activation of heartbeats. Heart rhythm disorder is also referred to as an arrhythmia.
The primary function of the heart is to supply blood and nutrients to the body. The regular beating, or contraction, of the heart moves the blood throughout the body. Each heartbeat is controlled by electrical impulses traveling through the heart. In the normal heart these electrical impulses occur in regular intervals. When something goes wrong with the heart's electrical system, the heart does not beat regularly. The irregular beating results in a heart rhythm disorder, or arrhythmia.
The electrical system regulating heartbeat consists of two main areas of control that are connected to a series of conducting pathways, similar to the electrical wiring in a house.
Normally, the heart beats about 60 to 100 times a minute. This state is called "normal sinus rhythm" or "normal rhythm" or "normal heartbeat." Depending upon the needs of the body, it may beat faster (sinus tachycardia) due to stress or slower (sinus bradycardia) such as during sleep.
Arrhythmias are abnormalities of the heartbeat. There are many types of arrhythmias, and they are classified by some investigators by where they begin in the heart (the atria, AV node, or the ventricles). Others classify arrhythmias as one of four types -- premature beats, supraventricular, ventricular, and bradyarrhythmias. Generally speaking, those that do not originate from the ventricles are called supraventricular arrhythmias while those that come from the ventricles are called ventricular arrhythmias. The arrhythmias that can often lead to death in minutes are ventricular fibrillation and ventricular tachycardia. Although others may also cause death, these two arrhythmias can quickly and severely alter the heart's ability to effectively pump blood. Immediate electrocardioversion to put the heart back into a more effective rhythm that allows the heart to pump blood effectively can be life-saving.
The following are some of the more commonly encountered arrhythmias, starting with the supraventricular arrhythmias.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 3/21/2013
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