An arrhythmia is any change in rate or rhythm of your heartbeat (irregular heartbeat). Your heart may beat too quickly (tachycardia), too slowly (bradycardia) or in an irregular pattern.
There are many types of arrhythmias, ranging from a few skipped beats that are mostly just a nuisance to a racing heart that can lead to long-term damage. The most common type of arrhythmia is atrial fibrillation, a fast and irregular heart rhythm that can lead to blood clots, stroke and heart failure.
Symptoms of arrhythmia
Arrhythmia symptoms may include the following:
- Chest discomfort
- Fast or slow heart rate
- Lightheadedness or dizziness
- Shortness of breath (dyspnea)
Some people with arrhythmia don't experience any symptoms. In fact, it's not uncommon for the condition to be discovered during a routine physical.
Causes of arrhythmia
Arrhythmias can be caused by a number of factors, including the following:
- Congenital heart problems
- Coronary artery disease
- Electrolyte imbalances (such as sodium or potassium)
- High blood pressure
Care for arrhythmia at Rush
The type of treatment used by your doctor will depend on the type and severity of the arrhythmia. Specialists at Rush offer the full spectrum of options for treating arrhythmia, including the following:
- Medications may be used to regulate your heartbeat. The most common types of medications for the treatment of arrhythmia are antiarrhythmic drugs, calcium channel blockers, beta blockers and anticoagulants.
- Cardiac ablation surgery is an outpatient minimally invasive procedure that can potentially cure certain arrhythmias. A physician uses a catheter through a vein or artery in the leg to reach the heart and destroy the tissue in the area of the heart that is not performing properly. Electrophysiologists at Rush are leaders in the use of ablation to treat arrhythmias and were the first in Chicago to do cardiac ablation using the Sensei Robotic Catheter, a system that enables them to treat abnormal heart rhythms with greater precision.
- Cardiac pacemakers, including leadless pacemakers (e.g., Micra), devices that are wireless and significantly smaller than traditional pacemakers. Implanted in the chest or abdomen, pacemakers help control arrhythmias by sending electrical pulses to your heart. These pulses help your heart beat at a normal rate and record your heart's electrical activity and heart rhythm, information your cardiologist can use to plan your care.
- Cardiac defibrillator (ICD), a small electronic device placed in people who are at risk of sudden cardiac death due to ventricular tachycardia, ventricular fibrillation, a weakened or enlarged heart, congenital heart disease or a genetic health condition. Implanted in the chest, the ICD detects any life-threatening rapid heartbeat and sends an electrical shock to the heart to bring the rhythm back to normal.
- Watchman device, an alternative to blood thinner medications (e.g., warfarin) for people with non-valvular AFib (atrial fibrillation not caused by a heart valve problem). Watchman is a permanent heart implant that can lower the risk of stroke compared to lifelong use of warfarin.
- Mini-Maze surgery is a minimally invasive procedure that can potentially cure atrial fibrillation. Through tiny incisions, surgeons create scar tissue that allows the heart to resume beating normally.
Specialized care for atrial fibrillation
People who have atrial fibrillation, the most common type of arrhythmia, can receive comprehensive, coordinated care through the Rush Atrial Fibrillation Clinic. Our personalized approach to caring for these often complex arrhythmias includes the following:
- The latest diagnostic and treatment options, including anti-arrhythmic drugs and more advanced treatments including catheter based ablation procedures, pacemakers (including leadless pacing) and surgical hybrid procedures.
- Assessment of individual risk of stroke associated with atrial fibrillation and discussion of options available to minimize that risk, including the Watchman device (for non-valvular AFib).
- Help managing risk factors, such as diabetes and sleep apnea, through diet, exercise, medications and other treatments.
- Access to clinical trials for treatments that are not yet widely available.
Why choose Rush for arrhythmia care
- National recognition: Rush's heart program is consistently ranked among the best in the country by U. S. News & World Report.
- Expertise you can trust: At the Rush Electrophysiology, Arrhythmia and Pacemaker Program, you'll find electrophysiologists who specialize in caring for heartbeat irregularities and provide second opinions. They often collaborate closely with other specialists at Rush — cardiologists, cardiac surgeons, sleep specialists and dietitians — to provide advanced care.
- The latest diagnostic and treatment options: This includes new devices, such as leadless pacemakers (e.g., Micra) and Watchman; anti-arrhythmic drugs; and more advanced treatments including catheter-based ablation (a minimally invasive procedure to decrease the burden of disease) and surgical hybrid procedures.
- Arrhythmia care for kids: Our dedicated Pediatric Electrophysiology Program at Rush Children's Hospital offers specialists who conduct extensive research, including clinical trials. This allows our team to deliver new therapies and treatment options with compassionate care to our young patients.