What Is the Main Cause of Arrhythmia?

Reviewed on 7/1/2022

Man lying on a bed while doctor reads his EKG results
The main cause of arrhythmia is heart problems, such as heart attack, heart changes with age, congenital abnormality of the heart’s electrical system, and inherited heart disease.

An arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat) is a change in the heart’s sequence of electrical impulses. 

Types of arrhythmias include:

  • Atrial fibrillation (AFib): Upper heart chambers contract irregularly
  • Ventricular fibrillation (VFib): Disorganized contraction of the lower chambers of the heart
  • Palpitations: Heart rate is irregular
  • 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)
  • Conduction disorders: The heart does not beat normally
  • Premature contraction (PACs and PVCs): Early heartbeat

The main cause of arrhythmia is heart problems, such as:

Risk factors for developing arrythmia include: 

Triggers for arrhythmia include: 

  • Electrolyte abnormalities 
  • Tobacco use 
  • Changes in posture
  • Caffeine
  • Exercise
  • Use of certain over-the-counter (OTC) and prescribed medicines
  • Use of illegal recreational drugs

What Are Symptoms of Arrhythmia?

An arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat) may not cause symptoms or only minor symptoms such as feeling as if you skipped a heartbeat or feeling of fluttering in the chest or neck. 

When symptoms of arrhythmia occur, they may include:

  • Dizziness 
  • Lightheadedness, fainting, or near-fainting spells 
  • Rapid heartbeat or pounding in the chest 
  • Chest pain or pressure 
  • Weakness 
  • Fatigue 
  • Shortness of breath 
  • Anxiety 
  • In severe cases, collapse and sudden cardiac arrest 
    • Cardiac arrest is a serious medical emergency and can be fatal. 
    • If someone you know is experience 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)

See a doctor right away if you have an arrhythmia and:


In the U.S., 1 in every 4 deaths is caused by heart disease. See Answer

How Is Arrhythmia Diagnosed?

Tests to diagnose the cause and type of arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat) include: 

  • Electrocardiogram (“ECG”) 
  • Echocardiogram (“echo”)
  • Stress test (treadmill test)
  • Electrophysiology test (EP study)
  • Esophageal electrophysiologic procedure
  • Tilt table test
  • Diagnostic monitors
  • 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 Arrhythmia?

Treatment for arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat) includes:

  • Medications  
    • Antiarrhythmics
      • Class I (fast sodium channel blockers) 
      • Class II (beta-blockers)
      • Class III (potassium channel blockers)
      • Class IV (calcium channel blockers)
      • Class V (other)
    • Anticoagulants (blood thinners) such as warfarin
  • Ablation
  • Cardioversion
  • Implantable devices

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Reviewed on 7/1/2022

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