An arrhythmia is an abnormal heartbeat. It can be caused by injuries, surgery or health issues such as congenital heart disease and thyroid disorders. Arrhythmias can also occur in healthy hearts when triggered by certain substances (such as caffeine, nicotine, or diet pills) or emotional states (such as shock or stress).

Many arrhythmias are harmless, but some can interfere with your heart’s ability to pump blood effectively. This may prevent enough blood and oxygen from reaching your brain, heart and other organs – and this can cause serious or life-threatening conditions.

The good news is, even serious arrhythmias can be successfully treated. Most people with abnormal heartbeats are able to live normal, healthy lives.

Types of Arrhythmia

Premature beats, or extra beats, are the most common. They are harmless most of the time and rarely cause symptoms other than a slight fluttering in the chest or a skipped beat sensation. There are two types:

  • Premature atrial contractions (PACs): Premature beats that occur in the upper chambers (atria)
  • Premature ventricular contractions (PVCs): Premature beats that occur in the lower chambers (ventricles)

Supraventricular tachycardia, or SVT, refers to rapid heartbeats that occur in the upper chambers of the heart. There are several types:

  • Atrial fibrillation
  • Atrial flutter
  • AV nodal reentrant tachycardia (AVNRT) begins in the AV node, a group of cells located between the atria and ventricles. It’s a very common SVT.
  • Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome, a less common type of tachycardia

Ventricular arrhythmias start in the heart’s lower chambers (ventricles). Causes include:

The following ventricular arrhythmias are very dangerous and can cause sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) or sudden cardiac death (SCD):

  • Heart failure
  • Long QT syndrome and other congenital electrical disorders of the heart
  • Ventricular fibrillation (VF or V-Fib): Chambers quiver instead of pumping normally
  • Ventricular tachycardia (VT or V-tach): Rapid heartbeat. In older adults and people with heart conditions, VT can be a dangerous condition that can result in a weak pulse and lead to ventricular fibrillation and sudden cardiac death. If it occurs in otherwise healthy people, the condition can be tolerated.

Bradyarrhythmias occur when your heart rate is too slow. Without sufficient blood flow to the brain, you can become confused, dizzy, disoriented and even pass out.


  • A rapid heartbeat (tachycardia)
  • A slow heartbeat (bradycardia)
  • Heart palpitations (skipping a beat or beating too hard or fast)
  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sweating
  • Weakness, dizziness and light-headedness
  • Loss of consciousness, blackouts or fainting


To diagnose an arrhythmia, your doctor will ask about your medical and family history. He or she may also perform a physical exam and order tests, including: 

  • Blood work panel
  • Cardiac catheterization
  • Coronary angiography
  • Electrocardiograph (EKG or ECG) testing
  • Implantable recorders
  • Electrophysiology studies
  • Heart imaging with echocardiography (ultrasound of the heart), CT or MRI scans or nuclear tracer imaging of the heart
  • Stress test

Services & Treatment

Treating underlying conditions is often an important first step in arrhythmia management. Your doctor may also prescribe medications to help regulate your heartbeat. He or she may also recommend a:

  • Catheter ablation 
  • Pacemaker
  • Implantable cardioverter defibrillator 
  • Surgery to correct the arrythmia

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