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It’s said that our hearts skip a beat when we’re in love. But if you regularly experience an irregular heartbeat, it could be an arrhythmia.

What is arrhythmia? In simplest terms, it’s an abnormal heartbeat. Some heart arrhythmias don’t cause symptoms and are relatively harmless, while others can lead to life-threatening complications. Here’s what to know about arrhythmia.

Learn more about arrhythmia from the UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute.

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Causes and Types of Arrhythmia

A normal resting heart rate is between 60 and 100 beats per minute, at a predictable rate and rhythm. Your heartbeat is the result of a complex network of electrical pathways, similar to the electric wiring in your home, that pass signals from one part of your heart to another. When disease or an abnormality causes a disruption along this electrical pathway, your heart rate can be affected. If your heart’s natural rhythm becomes too slow, too fast, or irregular, you could have an arrhythmia.

When your heart rate is too slow, the arrhythmia is called bradycardia. A heart rate that’s too fast is called tachycardia. When a heart rhythm is irregular, there are a number of different arrhythmias that could be in play, including heart block, atrial fibrillation, or atrial flutter.

A heart arrhythmia can have many causes, from caffeine consumption and smoking to high blood pressure and coronary artery disease. Some medicines also can trigger arrhythmia.

Symptoms of Arrhythmia

Symptoms of arrhythmia can include:

  • Dizziness
  • Heart palpitations
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fatigue
  • Fainting
  • Chest pain
  • Discomfort when exercising

Care for Arrhythmias

While some arrhythmias are benign, others can put you at higher risk of serious problems, including blood clots, sudden heart attack, and stroke, according to the American Heart Association. If you think you could have a heart arrhythmia, contact your primary care doctor who will likely refer you to a cardiologist.

Depending on your situation, the cardiologist may recommend testing and treatments. Common tests for arrhythmia include electrocardiograms, holter monitors, and event monitors. Treatment options range from lifestyle measures such as diet, exercise, and stress management to medicine and implantation of a pacemaker. Learn more about arrhythmia from the UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute.


About Heart and Vascular Institute

The UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute has long been a leader in cardiovascular care, with a rich history in clinical research and innovation. As one of the first heart transplant centers in the country and as the developer of one of the first heart-assist devices, UPMC has contributed to advancing the field of cardiovascular medicine.