Arrhythmia or irregularity in the rhythm of the heart can be caused by coronary artery disease, heart valve disease, heart attack or other health conditions.
What causes arrhythmia and what to do if you have arrhythmia we will try to explain in this article.
What Is Arrhythmia?
The heart’s rhythm is regulated by electrical signals controlled by the sinus node, the natural pacemaker present in your heart. Electrical impulses travel smoothly through the chambers of the heart, making them contract in a particular order so that blood is pushed through your body. Any problems in this process can cause an arrhythmia, which is an abnormal heart rhythm where your heart beats too quickly, too slowly, or irregularly.
Symptoms also include dizziness, shortness of breath, fainting, and palpitations.
While these abnormalities may mean nothing more than some minor discomfort or inconvenience in some cases, they can also have fatal consequences other times. Which is why you need to trace the cause and deal with it promptly. Here’s a look at the factors that can cause an irregular heart rhythm.
What causes arrhythmia or irregular heartbeat
Diabetes is a condition where your blood sugar levels are abnormally high. This develops because your body cannot either produce enough insulin or use it effectively to stimulate the absorption of glucose. High sugar levels in the blood can increase fatty deposits on the walls of your arteries over time, causing arteries to narrow and eventually develop CAD.
High cholesterol, high blood pressure, obesity or having an elevated waist circumference, obstructive sleep apnea, polycystic ovary syndrome, etc. can up your risk of diabetes.
Diabetes can cause symptoms like excessive thirst, fatigue, blurred vision, frequent urination, unusual hunger, and weight loss. However, sometimes you may not experience any symptoms.
Related: Early Signs And Symptoms Of Diabetes
2. High Blood Pressure
High blood pressure, increased pressure in the arteries which carry blood from the heart, can cause your heartbeats to become irregular. A systolic pressure (the pressure exerted when your heart is beating) greater than or equal to 140 mmHg and/or a diastolic pressure (the pressure exerted when your heart is at rest between beats) greater than or equal to 90 mmHg constitutes high blood pressure.
High blood pressure can affect various parts of your body including your heart, brain, and kidney, and even lead to a heart attack or stroke.
High blood pressure is generally caused by a narrowing of your arteries. Factors like being overweight, excessive consumption of alcohol, excessive salt intake, stress, and lack of exercise can up your risk of high blood pressure. Certain medical conditions like kidney disease, sleep apnea, and hormone disorders can also cause high blood pressure.
In most cases, high blood pressure doesn’t cause any symptoms, which is why it’s known as a “silent killer.” In severe cases, you may experience symptoms like an intense headache, fatigue, shortness of breath, vomiting, and vision problems.
Related: Super Foods For Managing Blood Sugar
3. Heart Conditions
Many conditions that damage your heart can result in an irregular rhythm.
Coronary Artery Disease
Coronary artery disease (CAD) is a condition where plaque builds up in the arteries which carry blood to your heart. This narrows the arteries and reduces the flow of blood. Blood clots can also develop in the arteries if you have this condition.
These can then block the flow of blood to the heart and lead to heart attacks. Some factors that increase your risk for CAD include smoking, obesity (particularly abdominal fat), high blood pressure, diabetes, excessive stress, lack of exercise, depression, and high cholesterol levels.
You may not experience any symptoms in the early stages of the condition but, eventually, symptoms associated with a heart attack like shortness of breath, nausea, loss of consciousness, sweating, chest pressure, pain in the chest, neck, arm, or jaw, as well an irregular or racing heartbeat may be felt.
You have a risk of developing an irregular heartbeat if the tissue in your heart has been damaged by a previous heart attack. Meanwhile, an ongoing heart attack is the most common cause of the most dangerous kind of arrhythmia – ventricular fibrillation. The lower chambers of the heart twitch uncontrollably in this condition and it can cause a person to suddenly collapse or lose consciousness.
Symptoms like chest pain, nausea, dizziness, an irregular heartbeat, and shortness of breath can occur within the range of a few minutes to an hour before the affected person collapses. Call for emergency medical help if you see this happening.
Heart Valve Disease
Your heart has four valves, one located at the exit of each of the four chambers of the heart. They help regulate the flow of blood through the chambers and close after blood enters a chamber, to stop it from leaking backward. The heart has four valves, each located at the exit of one of the heart’s four chambers.
As the heartbeat pushes blood through the heart, the valves close after blood has entered the chamber to prevent it from leaking backward. But if you have heart valve disease, a valve may not open or close properly. This can be a congenital condition or may be due to normal wear and tear.
Conditions like CAD, high blood pressure, a previous heart attack, or cardiomyopathy which can thicken or scar heart tissue may also contribute to heart valve problems. Infections like endocarditis which affect the lining of your heart or rheumatic fever may also damage the valves.
In some cases, you may not experience any symptoms with heart valve disease but a heart murmur may be heard when a stethoscope is used. Symptoms, when experienced, can include pain or pressure in the chest, shortness of breath particularly while lying down or exercising, dizziness, weakness, and swelling of ankles, feet, or stomach in addition to a racing heartbeat.
Congenital Heart Disease
A congenital heart defect is a structural problem in the heart that is present at birth. This can involve the valves or walls of the heart or the arteries and veins near it. Some defects may be minor and not cause any problems while others can cause blood flow to slow down, travel to the wrong place or in the wrong direction, or get completely blocked.
Some genetic disorders like Down’s syndrome are linked to congenital heart defects. Meanwhile, conditions like rubella or uncontrolled diabetes during pregnancy as well as the use of certain prescription medications can result in congenital heart defects in babies.
Some additional common symptoms of congenital heart defects in adults include tiredness, shortness of breath particularly when exercising, a heart murmur, swelling in the extremities, and a blue tinge on the skin, lips, or nails.
Cardiomyopathy is a disease that affects the muscles of the heart. The heart muscles may get stretched and become too thin, become abnormally thick or too stiff, or get replaced by fat or scar tissue. This can lead to arrhythmia, as well as blood clots, heart failure, or heart attacks.
And many factors like CAD, congenital heart disease, chronic high blood pressure, bacterial or viral infections of the heart, excessive alcohol, use of drugs like cocaine, chemotherapy, radiotherapy, nutritional deficiencies, complications due to pregnancy, etc. can cause his condition.
You may not experience any symptoms initially if you have cardiomyopathy. As the condition worsens, you can expect symptoms like abnormal heart rhythms as well as shortness of breath, tiredness, chest pain, dizziness, fainting, and swelling of your ankles, feet, legs, hands, or stomach.
4. Thyroid Disorders
Both hyperthyroidism, where your thyroid gland produces too much thyroid, and hypothyroidism, where your thyroid levels are too low, can result in arrhythmias. Many conditions can result in hyperthyroidism. These include Graves’ disease, tumors in the ovaries or testes, noncancerous growths in the pituitary or thyroid gland, inflammation of thyroid after pregnancy. Infections and some medicines like lithium and interferon alpha can also be responsible.
Some common symptoms of this condition are palpitations, fatigue, trouble concentrating, a visibly enlarged thyroid gland, increased appetite, hair loss, hand tremor, increased sweating, nervousness, weight loss or gain, and trouble sleeping.
Stress doesn’t just affect your mind, it can cause physical issues like arrhythmia. You would’ve noticed that you experience symptoms like tense muscles, a pounding heart, or sweating when you experience stress. These effects usually pass once the problem that’s causing you to stress is resolved.
However, a constant state of stress can be harmful and can cause headaches, dizziness, muscle pain, trouble sleeping, and tiredness. Regular exercise, a healthy diet, getting enough sleep. taking a break, mindfulness meditation, and calming breathing exercises can be helpful if you’re grappling with stress.
These are the biggest factors that cause arrhythmia, but also leading an unhealthy life and drinking too much alcohol, smoking too much coffee can also lead to an irregular heartbeat.
What To Do If You Have An Arrhythmia
If symptoms of arrhythmia persist or you have a history of sudden unexplained death in your family, do see a doctor. Your doctor may monitor your heartbeat using devices like a Holter monitor or event monitor or ask for an electrocardiogram, a test that measures your heart’s electrical activity. Depending on the diagnosis, medication, surgery to remove heart tissue causing the arrhythmia, or implantation of a pacemaker may be recommended.
Lifestyle changes like stopping smoking, limiting the consumption of caffeine or alcohol, lowering stress, increasing physical activity (under a doctor’s direction), and maintaining a healthy weight can also be helpful as they can impact underlying medical conditions as well as target arrhythmias directly.
Conclusion: To avoid irregular heartbeat change your lifestyle. Add some healthy food to your diet, be more socially active and exercise every day.