©2018 WebMD, Inc. All rights reserved. eMedicineHealth does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. See Additional Information.

Symptoms and Signs of Arrhythmias (Heart Rhythm Disorders)

Doctor's Notes on Arrhythmias (Heart Rhythm Disorders)

Arrhythmias are abnormal heartbeats. There are many types of arrhythmias, and they are sometimes classified by where they begin in the heart (the atria, AV node, or the ventricles). They may also be classified as one of four types - premature beats, supraventricular, ventricular, and bradyarrhythmias. Ventricular fibrillation and ventricular tachycardia are types of arrhythmias that can lead to death in minutes.

In many cases, arrhythmias cause minimal to no symptoms but in other cases, people can feel the arrhythmia when it happens. Symptoms of arrhythmias include palpitations, feeling "skipped beats," thumping or fluttering in the chest, a sensation of the heart racing, feeling faint or tired, lightheadedness or fainting, shortness of breath, and chest pain or discomfort. Many of these same symptoms may be due to anxiety, stress, or causes other than an abnormal heartbeat.

Medical Author: John P. Cunha, DO, FACOEP
Medically Reviewed on 3/11/2019

Arrhythmias (Heart Rhythm Disorders) Symptoms

Many arrhythmias cause no or minimal symptoms. Other people, however, can actually feel the arrhythmia when it happens.

Common symptoms include the following:

  • Palpitations, feeling "skipped beats"
  • Thumping or fluttering in the chest
  • Sensation of the heart racing

In addition, some can experience symptoms that are more generalized, including the following:

  • Feeling faint or tired
  • Light-headedness or passing out (syncope)
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain or discomfort

On the other hand, people may feel many of the sensations described above and have no arrhythmias whatsoever. These symptoms may be due to anxiety, stress, or other causes besides an abnormal heartbeat.

Arrhythmias (Heart Rhythm Disorders) Causes

Among individuals without known heart disease, arrhythmias are generally random, isolated occurrences that do not carry any significance. However, an evaluation by a physician is advised if a person notices any unusual or abnormal heart beats, especially if they reoccur or are sustained.

A variety of heart diseases cause arrhythmias. Heart disease can refer to patients with coronary artery disease, heart valve problems, heart failure, or disorders with heart conduction, or high blood pressure. Remember, however, that having an arrhythmia does not necessarily mean that a person has heart disease. Arrhythmias have many causes; sometimes the cause of an arrhythmia is never determined, other times the cause may be easy to determine and treat.

Sometimes, conditions other than heart disease may cause or aggravate arrhythmias. These conditions include the following:

  • Infection or fever
  • Physical or emotional stress
  • Diseases such as anemia or thyroid disease
  • Drugs and other stimulants, such as caffeine, tobacco, alcohol, cocaine, amphetamines, and certain over-the-counter and prescription medications, including medicine used to treat arrhythmias
  • Certain arrhythmias can be genetically determined such as Wolff-Parkinson-White (WPW) syndrome.

Atrial Fibrillation Heart Symptoms, Diagnosis, & Afib Treatment Slideshow

Atrial Fibrillation Heart Symptoms, Diagnosis, & Afib Treatment Slideshow

Atrial fibrillation (AFib) is a heart rhythm abnormality caused by a problem with the heart's electrical system. Normally, the heart's electricity flows from the top chambers (atria) to the bottom chambers (ventricles), causing the normal contraction. In atrial fibrillation the electrical flow is chaotic causing the heartbeat to become irregular.


Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.