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What is an arrhythmia?
To enable your heart to beat,electrical impulses travel through heart via what is sometimes referred to as a conduction pathway. Arrhythmias are disorders of your heart’s electrical system, which means there is a change in the regular beat of your heart. This can be as a result of the conduction pathway being damaged or blocked, or because an extra pathway is present. The heart may beat too quickly (tachycardia)or too slowly (bradycardia), or irregularly, all of which may affect the hearts ability to pump blood around the body. These abnormal beats are known as arrhythmia. They can occur in the upper chambers of the heart (atria) or in the lower chambers of the heart (ventricles). An arrhythmia can occur ay any age and are most often a nuisance rather than a serious problem.
Any interruption in the hearts electrical system can cause arrhythmias. For example, an irregular heart beat may begin with an abnormal impulse in a part of the heart other than the normal pacemaker (sinus node) or the sinus node may develop an abnormal rate or rhythm.
Common causes of arrhythmia can include stress,caffeine, tobacco, alcohol, diet pills and cough and cold medicines. If your heart tissue is damaged as a result of acquired heart disease such as myocardial infarction (heart attack), or congenital heart disease you may be at risk of developing an arrhythmia. However for some patients doctors cannot identify a cause of their arrhythmias.
You will need to visit your doctor and have an ECG. If the ECG does not detect any abnormality it may be necessary to arrange for further monitoring of your heart. This may involve having a continuous ECG for a period of time,usually 24-72 hours. This is done via a small recording device which can be easily carried around with you. You donot have to stay in hospital for this test. Once the recording device is fitted , which involves attaching some small stickers to your chest and connecting the leads of the device, you can go home and return the recorder at the end of the period.
There are also other ways of monitoring your heart over a period of time. Your nurse,physiologist or doctor will discuss this with you if required.