Have you ever heard the term “arrhythmia”? The term circles the media, though few can define it properly. Arrhythmia describes a broad group of conditions, altering our regular heart rhythm.Arrhythmia can cause our hearts to beat too fast, too slow and generally cause irregularities. There are many different types of arrhythmias, and it’s time we get the conversation started.
Get to Know your Heart
The heart has 4 chambers: 2 atria that sit on the top of 2 bigger ventricles. The heart is divided into 2 sides (left and right), which are separated by septum. The right side receives deoxygenated blood from the so-called vena cava and pumps it to your lungs under a lower pressure. This is where it’s oxygenated and flows back to the left side of the heart. Your left side is responsible for systemic circulation, meaning it pumps blood all around the body. As expected, the heart rhythm has big impact on how effectively the heart pumps blood.
The heartbeat is myogenic- it originates in the heart itself, not in the brain. The sinoatrial node (SA) is located in the right atrium of the heart and it initiates electric signals. That signal causes contraction of atria which then pumps the collected blood into the ventricles. Next, the atrioventricular node is activated and causes contraction of ventricles which then pump blood to either the lungs or body via arteries.
What Could Go Wrong?
There are many ways in which the electric signal in the heart can be altered. Such abnormalities can be divided into atrial or ventricular arrhythmias and tachycardia/ bradycardia. Tachycardia means that the heart is beating too fast (100 beats per minute when resting) and bradycardia is the opposite- a slow heartbeat (less than 60 beats per minute when resting). WIthin those two broad categories, we can distinguish more specific types of arrhythmia, such as:
Atrial fibrillation (A-fib): A type of tachycardia characterized by a fast and uncoordinated heart beat. It might be temporary, but often requires immediate medical intervention.
Ventricular Fibrilation: Another type of tachycardia. In this case, the ventricles are not efficiently pumping blood to the rest of the body because they are not contracting properly. It is a very serious condition which needs to be managed within minutes.
Sick Sinus Syndrome: It cannot be easily classified as tachycardia or bradycardia because it is actually both. This condition is caused by malfunctioning sinoatrial node which causes alternations of heart rhythm between fast and slow.
Conduction Block: In this instance, the blockage of electric signals in the heart can slow the heartbeat, or even stop the heart. It is possible that a patient is unaware of their condition but many people do experience symptoms such as skipped beats.
These are not the only types of arrhythmias seen in patients; however, they are probably the most popular and common ones.
British Heart Foundation. “Arrhythmias.” British Heart Foundation, 2020, www.bhf.org.uk/informationsupport/conditions/arrhythmias.
Mayo Clinic. “Heart Arrhythmia – Symptoms and Causes.” Mayo Clinic, 2017, www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/heart-arrhythmia/symptoms-causes/syc-20350668.
Unsplash. “Photo by Jesse Orrico on Unsplash.” Unsplash.com, 16 Apr. 2016, unsplash.com/photos/Us3AQvyOP-o.