An arrhythmia is a change in the rhythm of your heartbeat. The heart can beat too fast (tachycardia) or too slow (bradycardia). An arrhythmia can also mean that your heart beats irregularly (skips a beat or has an extra beat).
Is an arrhythmia serious? In most people, arrhythmias are minor and not dangerous. A small number of people, however, have arrhythmias that are dangerous and require treatment. Arrhythmias are also more serious if you have other heart problems. In general, arrhythmias that start in the lower chambers of the heart (the ventricles) are more serious than those that start in the upper chambers (the atria). Your doctor will talk with you about the type of arrhythmia you have and whether you need treatment.
Types of arrhythmias:
The heart has 4 chambers. The walls of the heart contract to push blood through the chambers. The contractions are controlled by an electrical signal that begins in the heart's natural "pacemaker" (the SA node). The rate of the contractions is influenced by nerve impulses and hormones in the blood. A problem here, or signals coming from elsewhere, can cause an arrhythmia.
Minor arrhythmias may be caused by excessive alcohol use, smoking, caffeine, stress or exercise. The most common cause of arrhythmias is heart disease, particularly coronary artery disease, abnormal heart valve function and heart failure. However, arrhythmias can occur for no known reason.
At some time or another, most people have felt their heart race or skip a beat. These occasional changes can be brought on by strong emotions or exercise. They usually are not a cause for alarm. Arrhythmias that occur more often or cause symptoms may be more serious and need to be discussed with your doctor.
One test that may required for diagnosis is an electrocardiogram, also called ECG or EKG. You may need to take a treadmill test while your heart is monitored, or monitor your heart while you do your daily activities. This can be done with a Holter monitor for 24 hours. Other equipment is available for use when monitoring for more 24 hours. Further testing may be necessary.
Treatment depends on the type of arrhythmia you have. Some mild arrhythmias require no treatment. Other arrhythmias can be treated with conventional drugs, a pacemaker, defibrillation, radiofrequency ablation or surgery.
An inefficient pumping action by the heart can result in rapid fatigue.
Snoring can be a sign of atrial fibrillation – an irregular, often rapid heart beat that causes poor blood flow.
Endurance sports such as triathlons, ultramarathon running and professional cycling have been associated with as much as a five-fold increase in the prevalence of atrial fibrillation (abnormal heart rhythms). People who are super-fit are more likely to need pacemakers in old age because exercise causes changes in the body that can disrupt electrical pulses in the heart, causing abnormal heart rhythms.
Myocardial magnesium was measured in 8 young patients (mean age 32) with ventricular tachycardia of less than 30 seconds in duration who underwent endomyocardial biopsy. Myocardial magnesium content was lower in the 4 with cardiomyopathic and dysplastic lesions than in the 4 with inflammatory lesions (myocarditis) and 8 controls. 10gm magnesium over 24 hours caused a resolution of ventricular tachycardias and a greater than 80% reduction in ventricular extrasystoles. No response was seen in the 4 patients with inflammatory lesions. [Lancet: 1019, 1987]
Sleep apnea can also result in cardiac arrhythmias. Most often, the heart slows while the person stops breathing, and increases when the apneic episode ends. In 90% of those patients studied with nocturnal bradyarrythmia (slowed heart rate), there was no sign of heart rhythm abnormalities while awake. Bradyarrhythmias occurred only during sleep and varied considerably in frequency and severity. [American Heart Journal 2000; 139: pp.142-8]
Taurine has been found to be particularly concentrated in the heart with its levels exceeding the combined total of all other amino acids. During active stress the levels of taurine go up in the heart. Levels go down after an MI or ischemic attack. In Japan, taurine is used to treat various types of heart disease. Some arrhythmias may require IV administration.
Dentists report that the removal of a dead wisdom tooth as well as infected bone in the area has on occasion caused an arrhythmia to disappear.
Some doctors have reported arrhythmias improving after mercury amalgam filling removal and systemic treatment with heavy metal chelators. [Alternative Medicine Digest]
The claim is made by doctors administering EDTA chelation therapy that cardiac arrhythmias frequently disappear when a sufficient number of treatments have been given. This may be due to the magnesium content.
Atrial fibrillation is 3 times more likely in an elderly person with low TSH. [Family Practice News Mar 15, 1995]
A magnesium deficiency can produce electrical changes in the heart muscle and thus lead to arrhythmia. Magnesium is commonly given to patients with arrhythmias but is thought to drive potassium into cells, producing lower serum potassium if not enough potassium is available to maintain normal serum levels. When in doubt, it is best to supplement both potassium and magnesium together.
Potassium deficiency is associated with a slow, irregular heartbeat. When taking drugs that might deplete intracellular potassium, one should supplement with oral potassium. Low potassium may cause muscle cramps or worsen an arrhythmia. Since over-the-counter potassium supplements are limited to 99mg each (about 1/5 that in an average banana), dietary or prescription potassium may be necessary.
Potassium and magnesium may be valuable in preventing tachyarrhythmias in Wolff-Parkinson-White Syndrome.
A four-year clinical evaluation of DMG (or TMG) by Mitchell Pries, MD of Palmdale, California has confirmed Soviet findings. In trials involving the administration of DMG at 125mg bid to over 400 cardiovascular patients, Dr. Pries reported major improvements in several areas including arrhythmias. This dose is low, and a more rapid response may be possible at higher doses.
In cases of supraventricular tachycardia, stimulation of the vagus nerve is a commonly employed technique to help return the heart rate to normal. This can be done in several ways:
All of these techniques serve to stimulate the vagus nerve which slows the heart rate.
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