Your heart controls the circulation of blood throughout your body. It continually pumps blood that carries oxygen to your extremities in a methodical manner. Your heart beats according to fairly precise schedule, your heart rate changes according to activity level and even mood. A normal heart rate for a healthy adult at rest falls between 60 and 100 beats per minute and occurs at regular intervals.
How Your Heart Works
Your heart beat is controlled by constant electrical signals–that are actually created within your heart itself–that tell your heart muscle when to beat. The electrical signal is created in an area at the top of your heart called the sinoatrial node (SA Node) and travels throughout your heart muscle to the atrioventricular node (AV Node). As the signal travels between these two areas, your heart contracts and pumps blood in. Once the electrical signal has reached the atrioventricular node, it slows down while your heart draws in more blood to pump and then continues on to the ventricles (chambers in your heart that fill with and pump blood). Once the electrical signal has reached the bottom of the ventricles (the heart muscle has two ventricles: right and left), it causes your ventricles to contract, which pumps blood out of your heart and through your lungs where it picks up oxygen. This process happens every second or more–without your ever knowing.
So What is an Arrhythmia?
Basically an arrhythmia is any problem with your heart’s rate or rhythm. Sometimes the electrical signals in your heart are not emitted from the SA Node at correct intervals. In some cases the signals are emitted too slowly; in other cases they are emitted too quickly and in other instances they are not emitted at regular intervals.
- Bradycardia- A condition in which electrical signals are emitted too slowly, causing your heart rate to consistently fall below 60 beats per minute.
- Tachycardia- A condition in which electrical signals are emitted too quickly, causing your resting heart rate to rise above 100 beats per minute.
- Fibrillation- A condition in which the electrical signals are emitted irregularly, causing an inconsistent heart beat.
What Causes Arrhythmias?
While different types of arrhythmias can have different causes, specific factors are the culprits of irregular heart beats more often than not. Common causes of arrhythmias include:
- Alcohol abuse
- Drug abuse
- High blood pressure
- Heart disease
- Some medications
As you can see many factors can cause your heart to beat incorrectly. There are different types of arrhythmias that require medical diagnosis. It may be difficult to identify an arrhythmia as often the symptoms can be very subtle. The best choice you can make if you think you might be having trouble is to find a quality medical provider that has an electrophysiology lab. An electrophysiology lab is equipped to diagnose and treat heart arrhythmias. The labs have sophisticated equipment which can not only measure electrical frequency in and around the heart but can also reach the heart by way of your arteries and provide various forms of treatment. These labs are capable of helping patients with multiple cardiac issues, not just arrhythmias.