What Is an Arrhythmia?

An arrhythmia, also called dysrhythmia, is an irregular or abnormal heartbeat. When arrhythmias are severe or long-lasting, the heart may not be able to pump enough blood to the body. Arrhythmias can occur in nearly anyone, becoming more common as we age. But some factors may place people at greater risk.

What Are the Symptoms of an Arrhythmia?

An arrhythmia may be silent and not cause any symptoms. A doctor can detect an irregular heartbeat during an examination by taking your pulse, listening to your heart, or performing diagnostic tests.

If symptoms occur, they may include:

  • Palpitations (a feeling of skipped heartbeats or fluttering)
  • Pounding in the chest
  • Dizziness or feeling light-headed
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest discomfort
  • Weakness or fatigue (feeling very tired)
  • Fainting or near-fainting spells

How Is an Arrhythmia Diagnosed?

If you have symptoms of an arrhythmia, you should make an appointment to come to see us. After evaluating your symptoms and performing a physical examination, we may perform a variety of diagnostic tests to help confirm the presence of an arrhythmia and indicate its causes.

Some tests that may be done to confirm the presence of an irregular heart rhythm include:

Electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG)

A picture of the electrical impulses traveling through the heart muscle. An ECG is recorded on graph paper through the use of electrodes (small, sticky patches) that are attached to your skin on the chest, arms, and legs.

Ambulatory Monitors

Holter Monitor: A small portable recorder that is attached to electrodes on your chest. It continuously records your heart’s rhythm for 24 hours.

Transtelephonic Monitor: A small, portable recorder that is worn continuously for an extended period of time to record and save information about your heart’s rhythm around the time you experience an arrhythmia. The recording is triggered by pushing a button (event button). The rhythm is recorded, saved, and transmitted over the phone line.

What Causes an Arrhythmia?

  • Coronary artery disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Changes in the heart muscle (cardiomyopathy)
  • Valve disorders
  • Electrolyte imbalances in the blood, such as sodium or potassium
  • Injury from a heart attack
  • The healing process after heart surgery
  • Other medical conditions