What is a heart arrhythmia?
A heart arrhythmia is an irregular, or a-rhythmic, heartbeat. It can result in the heart beating too slow, too fast, or irregularly. It happens when the electrical impulses that govern the heartbeat do not work properly, or when they are prevented from working properly. A heart arrhythmia often feels like a fluttering, racing, or uneven pulsing in the chest. Those with conditions that necessitate a handicap parking permit may be more prone to experiencing a heart arrhythmia. It is often harmless, but it can sometimes be a sign that something dangerous or even life-threatening is occurring.
How do you know if you’ve developed a heart arrhythmia?
Noticeable heart arrhythmia symptoms can include the aforementioned fluttering, too-fast, or too-slow heartbeat, as well as chest pain, shortness of breath, low energy, sweating, fainting, or light-headedness. But even these symptoms may not indicate that you have any serious problem. Remember, most heart arrhythmias are harmless.
What should you do if you think you’ve developed a heart arrhythmia?
As stated above, most heart arrhythmias are not particularly serious. A slight fluttering or irregularity in the heartbeat is common. But, it becomes necessary to urgently see a doctor if you suddenly experience any or multiple of the above symptoms, or if you have begun to feel them more frequently than usual.
Heart arrhythmias are not always benign. One type of heart arrhythmia that can be very dangerous is a ventricular fibrillation. This condition occurs when the heart beats quickly and erratically, and cannot do its job of pumping blood effectively around the body. When this happens, blood pressure lowers and blood supply to vital organs becomes restricted. This results in sudden collapse, lack of pulse, and an inability to breath. Usually, a ventricular fibrillation is caused by an underlying heart condition, or as the result of extreme trauma, such as a large electric shock. If this happens to anybody in your vicinity, you need to immediately call for emergency medical help and administer CPR.
How is a heart arrhythmia caused?
There are many factors and conditions that can cause a heart arrhythmia. Lifestyle habits such as excessive alcohol consumption, lack of sleep, overstimulation from caffeine, nicotine abuse, stress, usage of certain over-the-counter medications and supplements, and taking illegal drugs (especially cocaine or amphetamines) can all have an effect. Existing medical conditions can also cause a heart arrhythmia; a currently occuring heart attack, high blood pressure, an overactive or underactive thyroid gland, sleep apnea, diabetes, blocked arteries or scar tissue in the heart, and even just a genetic predisposition can all play a role in a person experiencing a heart arrhythmia.
It is very helpful to know how a normal heartbeat works, and what it should feel like. Your heart’s rhythm is controlled by the sinus node, located in the right atrium. The sinus node generates an electrical impulse to begin each heartbeat. The electrical impulse travels throughout the two atria causing the muscles to contract and pump blood to the ventricles. The AV node slows the electric impulse enough to allow the ventricles to fill with blood before the impulse passes into them and causes them to contract, thus sending blood out into the rest of the body. It’s a spectacular feat of natural engineering! A normal resting heart rate is between 60 and 100 beats per minute.
How do you prevent a heart arrhythmia from occuring?
The best ways to prevent a heart arrhythmia from occurring are the fairly obvious (but crucial to be reminded of again and again!) things you can do to keep your heart healthy and reduce the risk of getting any type of heart disease. Eating a healthy diet that is high in healthy fats, vegetables, and fruit, and low in trans fats, sugar, and processed foods is a great place to start. It is also crucial to quit smoking completely, and sensibly limit your intake of alcohol and caffeine. As much as possible you should reduce stress (by meditating, journaling, thinking healthily, and cultivating equanimity and perspective, and taking measures such as obtaining a handicap parking permit if needed). You should also get a solid seven or eight hours of good quality sleep each night. Be mindful of which over-the-counter drugs you use, and avoid all illegal drugs. Keep your body weight a low as possible and get as much regular exercise as you possibly can. Any type of exercise is good – choose an activity you enjoy, and get moving!
So, in summary, heart arrhythmias are common. Many people experience them from time to time and at certain stages in their lives. They are usually harmless. But sometimes they can be a sign or something sinister going on in the body, and if the symptoms are acute, sudden, or oddly chronic, it is wise to seek medical assistance. Each of us is responsible for maintaining the health of our heart as much as possible. And if you eat healthily, don’t ingest too many poisons, get lots of sleep, and exercise regularly, your heart will repay your efforts with many long and happy years of healthy functioning!