What Is Arrhythmias (abnormal heart rhythm)?
Arrhythmias means the heartbeat is not in rhythm. Also called dysrhythmia, this condition is characterized by irregularity in the heartbeats. Generally, it feels like the heart is beating too fast, or too slow, or skips a beat or flutters.
When the heart does not beat in sequence or beats erratically, it fails to pump blood to the vital organs like brain, lungs and other parts of the body. This damages the organs and can cause organ failure.
Arrhythmias can generally be harmless, but if the irregularities in the heartbeats are high or due to damaged heart conditions, then arrhythmias can be dangerous or can also be fatal.
The different types of arrhythmias which can be seen in people are:
- Premature atrial contractions: These are extra heartbeats which originate in the upper chambers of the heart called atria. These contractions are harmless and generally do not require any treatment.
- Premature ventricular contractions: These are the skipped heartbeats which we generally feel and are the most common type of arrhythmias. Stress, caffeine and nicotine are believed to cause these. Sometimes premature ventricular contractions are linked to heart disease.
- Atrial fibrillation: This is the condition when both the upper chambers of the heart beat in an irregular way and are not in synchronisation with the lower chambers.
- Atrial flutter: It happens in people with heart disease, mostly few days after surgery.
- Paroxysmal supraventricular tachycardia: Rapid heart rate which starts and ends suddenly.
- Accessory pathway tachycardias: A rapid heart rate due to an extra path between the atria (upper chambers) and the ventricles (lower chambers) of the heart. The impulses travel through the normal route as well as the extra pathway causing the heartbeats to travel unusually fast within the heart, thereby causing a very fast heart rate.
- AV nodal reentrant tachycardia: This is also another type of rapid heartbeat. It is caused by an extra pathway in the AV node of the heart. The patient suffers from palpitations, fainting or even heart failure.
- Ventricular tachycardia: A very fast heart rhythm originating from the lower chambers (ventricles) of the heart.
- Ventricular fibrillation: This is a serious problem and an emergency. It is caused because of the ventricles quiver and fails to pump blood to the different parts of the body.
- Bradyarrhythmias: Due to a problem in the heart’s electrical system, the heart rate becomes slow.
- Sinus node dysfunction: This is also a slow heart beat problem caused by problems in the sinus node of the heart.
- Long QT syndrome: Disorder in the heart’s rhythm characterized by fast and uncoordinated heart beats. This is a potentially dangerous condition.
- Heart block: In this condition, there can be a delay or entire blockage of the electrical impulse when it travels from the sinus node of the heart to the lower chambers. As a result, the heartbeat becomes irregular or may become slow.
What Are The Symptoms Of Arrhythmias (abnormal heart rhythm)?
Some people having arrhythmia may not experience any symptoms at all. In such cases, arrhythmia can be diagnosed by a physical examination, by checking the pulse or by conducting an electro cardiogram (ECG).
Others have symptoms like:
- Chest pain.
- Feeling dizzy.
- Feeling light headed.
- A rapid pounding in the chest.
- Palpitations – feels like the heart is fluttering; skipping a beat or running away.
- Weakness in the chest.
In some complicated cases, patient may suffer sudden cardiac arrest.
What Are The Causes Of Arrhythmias (abnormal heart rhythm)?
Whenever there is an interruption in the electric impulses travelling across the heart and hence causes the heart to contract, it can result in arrhythmia.
There are many reasons which can make the heart to dysfunction:
- Hyper tension (High BP), heart disease.
- Excessive alcohol consumption, drug abuse, heavy smoking.
- Excessive caffeine.
- Imbalance of electrolytes like sodium and potassium in the blood.
- Scarring or injury to heart after a heart attack.
- Changes in the structure of the heart.
- Post surgery healing.
People with a normal and healthy heart may also experience an arrhythmia.
What Are The Things One Should Do To Manage Arrhythmias (abnormal heart rhythm)?
Since the heart is a vital organ of the body, it is very important that we take care of it. For people having an arrhythmia, it becomes all the more important to have a healthy heart. The following suggestions will help to keep the heart healthy and strong:
- Healthy lifestyle choices play a key role in maintaining the heart’s health. A well -balanced diet, physical exercise and a stress-free life are key factors.
- Keep weight under control.
- Control your cholesterol level.
- Maintain blood pressure.
- Include omega 3 fatty acids in your diet as research shows that it may prevent sudden cardiac death.
- Family members have to be familiar with CPR in the case of an emergency like a stroke or heart failure.
What Are The Things One Should Avoid To Manage Arrhythmias (abnormal heart rhythm)?
If a person has a certain type of arrhythmias, he is at risk of cardiac arrest, stroke or heart failure. To keep the heart strong, follow these suggestions:
- Do not smoke. Also, do not be around other people who are smoking (passive smoking).
- Do not drink excessive alcohol.
- Avoid caffeine and nicotine.
- Do not take illegal drugs.
- Avoid fatty and spicy food.
- Some cold and cough medicines promote arrhythmia. A health worker may guide you regarding the medicines.
- Avoid unnecessary tensions in life. Anger, stress, anxiety, nervousness, etc. lead to abnormal heart rhythm. Beat stress through techniques like meditation, yoga and mindfulness and lead a peaceful life.
- You might have difficulty in driving if you have irregular heart rhythm. Avoid driving at such times and inform your colleagues about your condition.
- Sometimes arrhythmia causes sudden loss of control. If your job involves being on top of a building, doing heavy machinery work or being constantly alert, try to avoid such situations until the issue of loss of control has been resolved.
- If certain activities like running, or any particular exercise increases your heart rate, try to avoid those.
What Are The Best Foods For Arrhythmias (abnormal heart rhythm)?
- Employ smart cooking methods and eat a heart healthy diet to keep the heart in great working condition. Cooking smart means using lesser fats; using sautéing, roasting and poaching methods instead of deep frying.
- Replace refined carbohydrates with complex ones. Instead of eating white bread and white rice, substitute it with whole wheat bread, brown rice and oats.
- Add more colour to your palate. Incorporate a rainbow of fruits and vegetables of all types to get the best of various vitamins, minerals, fibre and antioxidants present in each of them.
- Not all fats are bad for the heart. Eating healthy fats like poly and mono unsaturated fats is beneficial for the heart. These can be found in sunflower, safflower and sesame oil, canola and olive oil and many nuts and seeds. But remember to use a moderate amount of fats.
- Increase magnesium in your diet. Excellent sources of magnesium are legumes, nuts and seeds, tofu, green leafy vegetables, whole grains and brown rice.
- Avocados are good sources of healthy fats, potassium and magnesium. A very good combination of electrolytes and healthy fats with less sugar.
- People with an arrhythmia should eat a couple of walnuts every day. Walnuts are regarded as excellent sources of omega 3 fatty acids and alpha linolenic acid which protect against heart diseases.
- Fatty fish like cod, tuna and salmon are known to stabilize heart rhythm and bring down the level of triglycerides in the blood, thereby protecting the heart.
- Flax seeds are also loaded with omega 3 fatty acids. Adding flax seed powder in food preparations will help in preventing cardiac arrhythmia.
What Are The Worst Foods For Arrhythmias (abnormal heart rhythm)?
Caffeinated drinks and beverages may trigger abnormal heart rhythm. So people who already have arrhythmia should try to avoid caffeine.
Sugar not only causes an inflammation, but also has the ability to cause palpitations in the heart. So limit your intake of sugar.
Too much salt is also bad for the heart. Salt causes irregularities in blood pressure levels which in turn affects heart activity. Hence reduce consumption of salt. A large amount of salt is used as the preservative in processed food. Read labels before you stock your kitchen cabinets with processed food.
Fatty food, junk food and food which is deep fried are all bad for the heart. They increase cholesterol and clog arteries, thereby increasing the chances of heart stroke.
What Are The Medicines For Arrhythmias (abnormal heart rhythm)?
What Are The Tips To Manage Arrhythmias (abnormal heart rhythm)?
- Generally, arrhythmia is harmless. But people with abnormal irregularities in heart rate have to take of themselves. Whenever you feel dizzy, remember to lie down.
- Even complicated and serious arrhythmias can be effectively treated with medical treatment coupled with an active lifestyle and healthy nutrition.