An arrhythmia is an abnormality or disturbance in a person’s heartbeat. Although an arrhythmia can be unsettling, the majority of patients can find relief through appropriate medications or, if necessary, a minimally invasive procedure.
Once a physician has recorded an arrhythmia and established its location in the heart, he or she can decide if treatment is necessary and which treatment is most appropriate. When treating arrhythmias, physicians consider if an underlying heart problem such as heart disease, past heart attack or valve disease is contributing to an arrhythmia. Physicians also evaluate conditions such as ischemia (lack of oxygen to the heart) or electrolyte or metabolic abnormalities, which may affect any underlying heart problem, and determine if the patient prefers drug therapy or other treatment approaches.
The Gill Heart Institute’s Heart Rhythm Program brings together a team of certified cardiac electrophysiologists, cardiovascular surgeons, cardiologists and cardiac anesthesiologists. Our team focuses on patient-centered care when considering medications, resynchronization therapy, or catheter-based or minimally invasive surgery.
As a patient, you will receive care from some of the region’s leading specialists, as many of our physicians have participated in the research and clinical studies of the newest and most effective treatments, including the latest in cardiac ablation.
An arrhythmia is a change in the heart's normal rate or rhythm. Arrhythmias are classified by their location in the heart and by their speed or rhythm. An atrial or supraventricular arrhythmia is a rhythm abnormality that occurs in one of the two upper chambers of the heart, the left or right atrium. Ventricular arrhythmias originate in the ventricles and can interfere with the heart's ability to pump blood to the body. These are potentially dangerous arrhythmias, but in some circumstances, especially in the absence of structural heart disease, they can be benign.
When an arrhythmia occurs repeatedly over time or causes symptoms such as palpitations, lightheadedness, fainting (syncope), shortness of breath or chest pain, it may require treatment. Sustained arrhythmias include:
The goals of antiarrhythmic treatment are to prevent or suppress arrhythmias by treating the underlying cause of arrhythmias. Physicians also seek to prevent conditions that contribute to arrhythmias, such as ischemia and metabolic imbalances in the heart muscle, and to manage serious symptoms such as lightheadedness, shortness of breath, fatigue and chest pain.
When medical treatment is required to suppress an atrial arrhythmia, physicians decide which drugs to use based on the risks and quality-of-life effects of the arrhythmia, the presence of any underlying disease, the severity of a person's symptoms, and the risk of side effects. Common medications include a category of drugs referred to as antiarrhythmic agents, beta-blockers, calcium channel blockers and digitalis.
Some antiarrhythmic medications may be harmful to patients who have an implanted pacemaker or who had or are having surgery, including dental surgery. Patients should also be aware that caffeine can decrease the effectiveness of antiarrhythmic medications.In some cases, such as with arrhythmias that cannot be treated with medication, physicians may use interventional or surgical procedures to control the arrhythmia. These procedures may include:
The following are just a few of the diagnostic tests that help doctors further understand and identify heart arrhythmias. For more specific information, consult your cardiologist or other health care provider.
Electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG). A test that records the electrical activity of the heart, shows abnormal rhythms (arrhythmias or dysrhythmias) and can sometimes detect heart muscle damage.
Signal Averaged Electrocardiogram (SAE). A test that is much like an ECG, but takes longer because it records more information related to abnormal electrical activity.
Holter monitor. A small, portable, battery-powered ECG machine worn by a patient to record heartbeats on tape over a period of 24 to 48 hours during normal activities. At the end of the time period, the monitor is returned to the doctor's office so the tape can be read and evaluated.
Event recorder. A small, portable, battery-powered machine used by a patient to record ECG over a long period of time. Patients may keep the recorder for several weeks. Each time symptoms are experienced, the patient presses a button on the recorder to record the ECG sample. As soon as possible, this sample is transmitted to the doctor's office for evaluation.
Tilt table test. A test performed while the patient is connected to ECG and blood pressure monitors and strapped to a table that tilts the patient from a lying to standing position. This test is used to determine if the patient is prone to sudden drops in blood pressure or slow pulse rates with position changes.
Electrophysiology study. A test in which insulated electric catheters are placed inside the heart to study the heart's electrical system.
Cardiovascular Media Library - See detailed animations of many procedures and surgeries.
UK Gill Heart Institute is the most comprehensive heart program in Kentucky, providing the most appropriate care. We unite the highest quality clinical care with leading-edge cardiovascular research to provide patients with advanced heart and circulatory health care.
800 Rose Street (mail)
800-333-8874 (toll free)
connected with UK HealthCare and the Gill Heart Institute on Facebook, YouTube
and Twitter. Stay up-to-date on community events, programs, treatments,
research, new physicians and more.
© University of Kentucky, Lexington, Kentucky, USA | An Equal Opportunity University