What is arrhythmia?
Cardiac arrhythmia is an abnormal heart rhythm, where the heart’s normal rhythm is disrupted. The heart may beat too slowly, too quickly or irregularly.
Most arrhythmias are harmless, but some can be serious and potentially fatal. Disturbed heart rhythms can restrict blood being pumped around the body, which may cause damage to the brain, heart and other organs.
Over two million people in the UK experience arrhythmias (source: NHS, accessed Jan 2019).
Causes of arrhythmia
Common causes of arrhythmia are:
- diet pills
- cough and cold medicines.
You may also be at risk of developing an arrhythmia if your heart tissue is damaged because of an illness, such as a heart attack, heart failure or inflammation of the heart.
Symptoms of arrhythmia
Initial symptoms may include:
- heart palpitations
- a skipped beat
- a ‘fluttering’ sensation in the chest.
The longer the arrhythmia lasts, the more likely that this condition can affect the way the heart works, causing a range of secondary symptoms, including:
- blackouts (syncope)
- rapid heartbeat or pounding
- chest pain.
In extreme cases, certain types of arrhythmia can cause sudden cardiac death.
At Royal Brompton & Harefield Hospitals Specialist Care, we have a large number of expert consultants who can treat private patients with arrhythmia:
- Mr George Asimakopoulos - Consultant cardiac surgeon
- Mr Toufan Bahrami - Consultant cardiac surgeon
- Mr Sunil Bhudia - Consultant cardiac surgeon
- Dr Julene Carvalho - Consultant fetal cardiologist
- Dr Zhong Chen - Consultant cardiologist and electrophysiologist
- Dr Jonathan Clague - Consultant cardiologist
- Dr Miles Dalby - Consultant cardiologist
- Professor Piers Daubeney - Consultant paediatric and fetal cardiologist
- Mr Anthony De Souza - Consultant cardiac surgeon, Clinical director of surgery at Royal Brompton Hospital
- Dr Sabine Ernst - Consultant cardiologist and electrophysiologist
- Dr John Foran - Consultant cardiologist
- Dr Shouvik Haldar - Consultant cardiologist and electrophysiologist
- Dr Wajid Hussain - Consultant cardiologist, Lead for cardiology at Harefield Hospital, Director of the cardiac catheter labs at Harefield Hospital
- Dr Charles Ilsley - Consultant interventional cardiologist
- Dr Julian Jarman - Consultant cardiologist and electrophysiologist
- Dr David Gareth Jones - Consultant cardiologist
- Dr Rebecca Lane - Consultant interventional cardiologist
- Dr Wei Li - Consultant cardiologist
- Mr Balakrishnan Mahesh - Consultant cardiac and tranplant surgeon
- Dr Vias Markides - Consultant cardiologist, Divisional director for heart at Royal Brompton Hospital
- Dr Gareth Rosser - Consultant cardiologist
- Dr Tushar Salukhe - Consultant cardiologist and electrophysiologist
- Dr Jan Till - Consultant paediatric electrophysiologist
- Dr James Ware - Honorary consultant cardiologist
- Dr Tom Wong - Consultant cardiologist and electrophysiologist
- Ms Rashmi Yadav - Consultant cardiac surgeon.
Diagnosis of arrhythmia
A range of diagnostic tests for heart conditions are used to diagnose cardiac arrhythmia by our experts at Royal Brompton & Harefield Hospitals Specialist Care:
Electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG) to diagnose arrhythmia
An ECG is the main test used to detect abnormal heart rhythms. Each beat of the heart is triggered by an electrical impulse generated by cells in the upper right heart chamber. An ECG translates this electrical activity into line tracings on paper.
Other tests include:
Echocardiogram to diagnose arrhythmia
This simple and painless test uses ultrasound waves to build a picture of the heart’s size, structure and function.
Exercise or stress test to diagnose arrhythmia
This test is usually carried out on patients where the arrhythmia is thought to be linked to exercise. Patients are asked to walk or run on a treadmill or ride an exercise bike whilst their heart rate and rhythms are monitored.
Tilt test to diagnose arrhythmia
For people who have experiences recurrent fainting spells, a tilt test to manage syncope shows how standing up from a lying down position can affect heart rate and blood pressure.
Treatment for arrhythmia
A bespoke treatment plan may be required if the arrhythmia is deemed clinically significant, in that it causes adverse symptoms or could cause complications in the future (such as heart failure or stroke). Treatment may include medication, non-surgical or surgical procedures.
However, most individuals who suffer from arrhythmia do not require treatment.
Medication to treat arrhythmia
Medication such as beta blockers, calcium channel blockers and specific drugs which can be used to slow down a fast heart rate, whilst a range of medications can be used to restore a normal heart rate. Blood thinning medications may also be used.
Medical procedures to treat arrhythmia
A range of non-surgical medical procedures can be undertaken to help control arrhythmias. These include having a pacemakers or implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) fitted. Both of these devices are inserted under the skin in the chest and use electrical impulses to shock the heart, which in turn helps to restore a normal heartbeat.
In some cases, a procedure called catheter ablation may also be used. This treatment effectively destroys the part of the heart that is causing the arrhythmia.
Surgery to treat arrhythmia
If heart disease is found to be the main cause of arrhythmia, then you may need to have a procedure called coronary artery bypass grafting (CABG). This will help to improve blood flow to the heart.