How Serious Is an Irregular Heart Beat?

Reviewed on 11/18/2020

What Is Irregular Heart Beat?

There are a number of causes for an irregular heartbeat. Sometimes, irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia) is a relatively benign condition. In other contexts, irregular heartbeats may be the precursor to a heart attack or an indication of some other serious problem.
There are a number of causes for an irregular heartbeat. Sometimes, irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia) is a relatively benign condition. In other contexts, irregular heartbeats may be the precursor to a heart attack or an indication of some other serious problem.

Irregular heart beat (arrhythmia) refers to a change in the heart’s sequence of electrical impulses. Types of arrhythmias include:

  • Tachycardia: heart rate is too fast (in adults, more than 100 beats per minute)
  • Bradycardia: heart rate is too slow (in adults, less than 60 beats per minute)
  • Palpitations: heart rate is irregular
  • Atrial fibrillation (AFib): upper heart chambers contract irregularly
  • Ventricular fibrillation (VFib):  disorganized contraction of the lower chambers of the heart
  • Conduction disorders: heart does not beat normally
  • Premature contraction (PACs and PVCs): early heart beat

What Are Symptoms of Irregular Heart Beat?

Arrhythmia may not cause any symptoms or only minor symptoms such feeling as if you skipped a heartbeat or feeling of fluttering in the chest or neck. 

When symptoms of arrhythmia do occur, they may include:

  • Fatigue 
  • Weakness 
  • Dizziness 
  • Lightheadedness, fainting, or near-fainting spells 
  • Rapid heartbeat or pounding in the chest 
  • Shortness of breath 
  • Anxiety 
  • Chest pain or pressure 
  • In severe cases, collapse and sudden cardiac arrest 
    • Cardiac arrest is a serious medical emergency and can be fatal. 
    • If someone you know is experiencing any symptoms listed below call 911 and get to a hospital’s emergency department immediately. 
      • Sudden loss of responsiveness 
      • No normal breathing (not breathing at all or gasping for air)

What Causes Irregular Heart Beat?

Arrhythmias may be caused by:

How Is Irregular Heart Beat Diagnosed?

Tests to diagnose arrhythmias include: 

  • Electrocardiogram (“ECG”) 
  • Stress test (treadmill test)
  • Echocardiogram (“echo”)
  • Electrophysiology test (EP study)
  • Esophageal electrophysiologic procedure
  • Tilt table test
  • Diagnostic monitors
    • Holter monitor
    • Transtelephonic monitor
  • Cardiac catheterization (“cardiac cath”) 
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan of the heart 
  • Computed tomography (CT) scan of the heart
  • Blood tests: brain natriuretic peptide (BNP) or N-terminal pro-BNP (NT-proBNP) 

What Is the Treatment for Irregular Heart Beat?

Treatment for arrhythmia includes:

What Are Complications of Irregular Heart Beat?

Complications of irregular heartbeat include: 

  • Heart attack
  • Stroke
  • Sudden cardiac death

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Reviewed on 11/18/2020
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