What Is Arrhythmia?

arrhythmiaAn arrhythmia refers to an abnormal pattern or rate of the heartbeat. Arrhythmias can include heartbeats that are too fast, too slow or irregular, as is the case with atrial fibrillation , the most common arrhythmia in the United States that requires medical attention.

The normal rhythm of the heart is a tightly regulated but dynamic electrical phenomenon that changes according to the needs of the body. The heart has built-in pacemakers and “wiring” that coordinate contractions in the organ’s upper chambers (the atria) and lower chambers (the ventricles). Glitches in this complicated electrical system can cause the heart to “misfire.”

Everyone has felt their heart “skip” a beat or two or speed up in times of fear or excitement or during exercise. Too much caffeine and certain medications can also cause heart palpitations (rapid thumping in the chest) in some people. These types of arrhythmias are generally harmless.

If irregular heartbeats are frequent or chronic, they can be serious. The consequences of having an arrhythmia usually depend not only on symptoms they can cause (such as faintness), but also on the presence of heart disease or structural abnormalities. In serious cases, the heart may not be able to pump enough blood to the body. Lack of blood flow can damage the brain, heart and other organs.

Common symptoms of arrhythmia include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • Palpitations
  • Feeling tired or light-headed
  • Passing out

Call your doctor if you have any of these symptoms of arrhythmia, especially if you have heart disease or have had a heart attack.

If you have experienced an irregular heartbeat, palpitations, a racing heartbeat or other heart irregularities, we recommend that you schedule an appointment with a specialty-trained Emory Healthcare Nurse Practitioner who will begin a comprehensive screening evaluation to determine whether you need follow-up care with an Emory Electrophysiologist. Call 404-778-7777 to schedule your screening appointment. You can also learn more about the Emory Arrhythmia Center online .

About Dr. Lloyd

Michael Lloyd, MDMichael Lloyd, MD , began practicing medicine at Emory in 2007. He specializes in cardiology and cardiac electrophysiology. His areas of clinical interest and research include arrhythmias in athletes, arrhythmias in young adults with congenital heart disease, atrial fibrillation and implantable devices for the treatment of heart failure. Dr. Lloyd is the program director for the Cardiac Electrophysiology Fellowship Program at Emory and holds organizational leadership positions with the American College of Cardiology, the American Heart Association and the Heart Rhythm Society.

About Emory’s Arrhythmia Center

Emory’s Arrhythmia Center is one of the most comprehensive and innovative clinics for heart rhythm disorders in the country. Our electrophysiologists have been pioneers in shaping treatment options for patients with arrhythmias such as atrial fibrillation, as well as for those with congestive heart disease. Our specialized electrophysiology (EP) labs host state-of-the-art equipment, including computerized three-dimensional mapping systems to assist with the ablation of complex arrhythmias, and an excimer laser system to perform pacemaker and defibrillator lead extractions.

Patients with devices, whether implanted at Emory or elsewhere, have access to Emory’s comprehensive follow-up care. Patients benefit from remote monitoring, quarterly atrial fibrillation support groups and 24-hour implantable cardiac device (ICD) and pacemaker monitoring services. Inpatient telemetry and coronary care units, as well as outpatient care and educational support of patients with pacemakers and ICDs, complete Emory’s comprehensive range of arrhythmia treatments and services.

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