An irregular heartbeat is an arrhythmia. Heart rates can also be irregular. Heart rhythm problems (heart arrhythmias) occur when the electrical impulses that coordinates your heartbeats don’t work properly, causing your heart to beat too fast, too slow or irregularly.
Heart arrhythmias may feel like a fluttering or racing heart and may be harmless. However, some heart arrhythmias may cause bothersome — sometimes even life-threatening — signs and symptoms. A normal heart rate is 50 to 100 beats per minute. Arrhythmias and abnormal heart rates don’t necessarily occur together. Arrhythmias can occur with a normal heart rate, or with heart rates that are slow.
Arrhythmias may be caused by many different factors, including: coronary artery disease, electrolyte imbalances in your blood, changes in your heart muscle, injury from a heart attack, healing process after heart surgery.
When arrhythmias last long enough to affect how well the heart works, more serious symptoms may develop: fatigue, dizziness, lightheadedness, fainting, rapid heartbeat or pounding, shortness of breath, chest pain; in extreme cases, collapse and sudden cardiac arrest.
Heart arrhythmia treatment can often control or eliminate fast or irregular heartbeats. In addition, because troublesome heart arrhythmias are often made worse — or are even caused — by a weak or damaged heart, you may be able to reduce your arrhythmia risk by adopting a heart-healthy lifestyle.
Doctors classify arrhythmias not only by where they originate (atria or ventricles) but also by the speed of heart rate they cause:
- Tachycardia. This refers to a fast heartbeat — a resting heart rate greater than 100 beats a minute.
- Bradycardia. This refers to a slow heartbeat — a resting heart rate less than 60 beats a minute.
Although it often feels like a skipped heartbeat, a premature heartbeat is actually an extra beat. Even though you may feel an occasional premature beat, it seldom means you have a more serious problem. Still, a premature beat can trigger a longer lasting arrhythmia — especially in people with heart disease. Premature heartbeats are commonly caused by stimulants, such as caffeine from coffee, tea and soft drinks; over-the-counter cold remedies containing pseudoephedrine; and some asthma medications.
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