Cardiac arrhythmia: causes, symptoms and treatment

Cardiac arrhythmia: causes, symptoms and treatment


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Responsible for thousands of deaths per year, the cardiac arrhythmia and related illnesses are very common in an older age population. They translate into slower, faster or irregular beats of the heart, which usually need equipment such as stimulants or defibrillators. Atrial, or atrial, fibrillation is one of the heart rhythm problems, affecting about 1% of the general population and 10% of people over 80 years of age.

  • Definition of cardiac arrhythmia

  • Causes of cardiac arrhythmia

  • Types of cardiac arrhythmia

    • Bradycardia

    • Tachycardia

    • Atrial extrasystolic

    • Atrial fibrillation

    • Ventricular fibrillation

  • Arrhythmia symptoms

  • Arrhythmia diagnosis

  • Complications of arrhythmia

  • How to treat arrhythmia

    • In case of tachycardia

    • In cases of bradycardia

  • How to prevent arrhythmia

Definition of cardiac arrhythmia

Cardiac arrhythmia corresponds to a heart rhythm problem, which may be benign or require specific treatment. When the heart, instead of contracting 60 to 80 times a minute in regular beats, changes its frequency, there is talk of arrhythmia. This pathology also happens when the heart beats less than 60 times or more than 100 per minute, for no apparent reason. The main types are extrasystolic, atrial or ventricular arrhythmia, with very early beat, and atrial or ventricular fibrillation, with rapid and disordered contraction of the heart and atrial structures.

Causes of cardiac arrhythmia

There are many causes of cardiac arrhythmia. The main ones are stress, excessive smoking, excessive intake of alcohol or coffee, cardiac pathologies or lung diseases such as arteriosclerosis (hardening of the artery and heart walls), atherosclerosis (fat deposits in the arteries), bronchopathies and coronary insufficiency. Among other causes, they can be dehydration, ingestion of diuretic medications and aging.

Types of cardiac arrhythmia

Bradycardia

Bradycardia arises when the heart registers a sudden and transient decrease in heart rate, which reaches less than 60 beats per minute.

Tachycardia

Tachycardia is characterized by an unusual increase in heart rate, reaching more than 100 beats per minute.

Atrial extrasystolic

Atrial extrasystolic arrhythmia is the most frequently arrhythmia and, in most cases, is benign. It has variations in heart rate, causing the heart to beat twice as fast, and then pause and return to its normal rhythm.

Atrial fibrillation

During atrial fibrillation, the atria of the heart contract uncontrollably and with disordered electrical signals. This contraction generates rapid and irregular movement of the ventricles and is harmful to the heart and can cause serious cardiovascular problems. Frequent in the elderly, it can end spontaneously or last for more than seven days, if it is persistent.

Ventricular fibrillation

In the case of ventricular fibrillation, the ventricles contract without pumping blood. If the arrhythmia does not subside quickly or with defibrillation, it may be irreversible. This form of arrhythmia is usually present in some diseases of the heart such as coronary insufficiency and infarction.

Arrhythmia symptoms

Cardiac arrhythmia does not usually generate symptoms frequently. In the case of extrasystolic arrhythmia, some symptoms appear, such as palpitations or a feeling that the heart is “coming out of the mouth”, however, these signs generally do not mean risk to the patient’s life.

At the same time, atrial fibrillation goes unnoticed until the electrocardiogram exam or when there is a complication. Ventricular fibrillation, on the other hand, is responsible for acute symptoms, such as the activity of administering cardiac contractions that lead the person to lose consciousness, without being treated in time.

Common symptoms of arrhythmia include palpitations, dizziness, slow or very fast pulse, reduced blood pressure, dyspnoea, chest pain and edema.

Arrhythmia diagnosis

The first aspect considered by the doctor will be the symptoms described by the patient. In the sequence, he investigates the family history and daily habits. Some specific exams confirm the diagnosis. They are electrocardiogram, which evaluates the heartbeat, Holter-ECG, portable device with electrodes to record the heartbeat within 24 hours, resistance test to evaluate the patient during physical activities, with connection to the ECG and cardiac ultrasound.

Complications of arrhythmia

Cardiac arrhythmia can generate embolism (obstruction of the arteries) due to the presence of clots in the blood.

How to treat arrhythmia

Treatments are applied when symptoms become constant or arrhythmia can lead to serious complications, such as fainting. First, you must assess the type of arrhythmia. In the case of extrasystolic, benign and without serious consequences, treatment is not necessary. However, in the case of ventricular fibrillation, urgent treatment reduces the chances of death in the absence of rapid relief.

In the case of atrial fibrillation, treatment is based on anticoagulant medications, since blood clotting is the main complicator of the rhythm, causing embolism. According to the type of contraction generated by the atrium, it is assessed whether the pace should be reduced or accelerated with medications or electrical impulses.

In case of tachycardia

When episodes of tachycardia arise, the doctor may prescribe medications that regulate the beats. Beta blockers sodium, calcium and potassium are some of them. Defibrillating the patient or ablating the cardiac tissue where the arrhythmia manifests are considered measures.

In cases of bradycardia

In such cases, a pacemaker or electrical shocks are applied to the patient’s heart.

How to prevent arrhythmia

To avoid this type of heart problem, it is recommended to avoid intake of sugar and fats, exercise, avoid smoking, excessive alcohol, coffee or tea, in addition to adopting measures to reduce stress.

Photo: © stockyimages – Shutterstock.com

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