Arrhythmias are irregular heart rhythms, experienced by over 2 million people in the UK, where the heart beats either too fast or too slow.
Many people who are diagnosed with an arrhythmia can lead a normal life, but there are instances where irregular heart rhythms can be dangerous and need urgent medical care. We explore the different types of arrhythmia and the steps that should be taken, should an emergency occur.
All About Arrhythmias
In order for the heart to pump blood around the body, it needs to be beating in a ‘resting heart rate,’ which for an adult, ranges from 60 to 100 beats per minute. Factors like fitness levels and medications can cause the resting heart rate to vary.
Heart rhythm problems affect all age groups, although certain types of arrhythmia like Atrial Fibrillation are more common among older people. Excessive alcohol consumption and being overweight can also increase your risk of developing this particular heart problem.
Common triggers for arrhythmia include:
- Alcohol consumption
- High-caffeinated drinks
- Over-the-counter and prescribed medicines
- Illegal recreational drugs
- Viral illnesses
Your risk of developing an arrhythmia can also be increased if your heart tissue is damaged through previous conditions, such as heart attacks.
Types of Arrhythmia
Ventricular Tachycardia (VT) causes the heart to beat over 100 beats per minute for more than 3 beats in a row.
Your heart is controlled by electrical impulses which trigger each contraction of the heart, however, when impulses are sent too quickly, it can lead to VT. This type of arrhythmia does not always cause symptoms, but when it does, casualties may experience fatigue, dizziness, chest pains and shortness of breath.
There is also the risk of VT developing into Ventricular Fibrillation, where the heart beats so fast and irregularly that it eventually stops working.
The most serious arrhythmia is Ventricular Fibrillation (VF), as this causes the patient to go into cardiac arrest. This is due to the heart quivering instead of beating and the body being deprived of oxygenated blood.
Unlike other arrhythmias, there are no warning signs or symptoms for VF, so it is important to know how to effectively respond should someone around you experience this irregular heart rhythm. The only definitive treatment for a cardiac arrest is CPR and use of a defibrillator, which, if administered within 3-5 minutes of collapse, can increase a patient’s chance of survival from 6% to 74%.
You should firstly alert the emergency services and then begin providing CPR at a ratio of 30 compressions to 2 rescue breaths. If there are other people around, instruct them to find the nearest accessible defibrillator and use this on the patient to provide an all-important shock, which will restore the heart’s natural rhythm. Continue with CPR until medical help arrives on the scene.
Bradycardia is the opposite of Ventricular Tachycardia, whereby the heart beats at an abnormally slow rate: less than 60 beats per minute.
This type of arrhythmia can signal that there is a disruption in the heart’s electrical system, which can potentially be life-threatening as the heart is not pumping enough blood around the body.
Those experiencing Bradycardia may feel symptoms like fainting, dizziness, fatigue, memory problems and chest pains. Consult with a medical professional if your symptoms persist or there is a history of unexplained sudden death in your family, as it is important to diagnose your heart rhythm disorder so that it can be effectively treated.
Staying Safe with an Arrhythmia
How your arrhythmia is treated will depend on which one you have been diagnosed with, however, main treatments include medication, cardioversion, pacemakers and ICD, which all help to maintain a healthy heart rate.
If you have been diagnosed with an arrhythmia that affects your driving, you should consult with the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency. Additionally, if your job requires working at height or with dangerous machinery, you should seek advice from your GP, as this may put a strain on your heart.
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