Arrhythmias are problems that affect the electrical system, or "wiring", of the heart muscle. This causes you to have an abnormal heartbeat that is too fast, too slow, and/or irregular. You may feel your heart “flutter” or feel like it skipped a beat- these are all symptoms of cardiac arrhythmia. Other symptoms can include dizziness, lightheadedness, fainting, chest pain or shortness of breath. If you or a loved one experience these symptoms, it’s important to visit a doctor to have your heart evaluated. Many arrhythmias are benign, meaning they do not require urgent treatment, but that fluttery feeling can also signal a life-threatening condition.
What are the types of abnormal heart rhythms?
There are many different types of irregular heartbeats, and the type and severity will influence how your doctor treats the problem. You may feel like your heart is beating too fast, a condition known as tachycardia, or like it is beating too slowly, called bradycardia. Common arrhythmias include:
- Atrial Fibrillation (A-Fib): A common condition, if left untreated A-Fib greatly increases the risk of stroke.
- Ventricular Tachycardia (VT or V-Tach): VT causes the heart to beat too quickly and inefficiently. VT often occurs due to other heart conditions, such as coronary artery disease, cardiomyopathy or valve disease.
- Other common arrhythmias include paroxysmal supraventricular tachycardia (PSVT), Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome, atrial flutter and ventricular fibrillation.
Treating cardiac arrhythmia
Treatment of your arrhythmia will depend on the type and frequency of the irregular heartbeat. Your doctor will want to get a full medical history and learn about any other conditions that may be causing or affecting your heart's ability to maintain a normal rhythm. To help diagnose the cause of the irregular heartbeat, your doctor may also perform tests, such as an electrocardiogram and echocardiogram. The electrocardiogram, also called an ECG or EKG, is a noninvasive test that records the electrical activity of your heart, letting your doctor see how fast your heart is beating and whether the rhythm is regular or irregular. Similarly, the echocardiogram uses noninvasive ultrasound imaging to see the heart as it beats. This lets the doctor see the size and shape of your heart chambers and see how the chambers and valves are functioning.
The tests will help confirm the cause and type of arrhythmia. Then, your doctor will work with you to create a treatment plan to help control symptoms and, depending on the type of arrhythmia, treat underlying causes and risk factors.
Why our program is different
Our cardiac arrhythmia team at Penn specializes in finding the right treatment for you, and are especially skilled in treating difficult or persistent arrhythmias that are resistant to medication. We understand that living with an irregular heartbeat can be uncomfortable and make it hard to enjoy the things you love. Our primary mission is to minimize the risk of heart disease and help you live a more comfortable life. Common arrhythmia treatments include:
Our team has been performing ablation procedures for over 20 years and are proud of our excellent success rate and ability to treat patients with complex needs. Patients from all over the world come to Penn for ablation procedures that have failed at other institutions. The electrophysiology team at Penn frequently speak at the most influential international symposiums, have authored hundreds of manuscripts in peer-reviewed journals, and have developed many of the contemporary ablation techniques that have been adopted throughout the world.
Penn AF Care Program
We’re always looking for ways to better treat and serve our patients. One of our most recent developments is the Penn AF Care program. This new initiative identifies patients with atrial fibrillation, or AF , that have risk factors such as obesity, sleep apnea and/or poorly controlled blood pressure. Treating these risk factors has been shown to improve the success of treatment for AF patients. The team from Penn AF Care works directly with eligible patients to modify these risk factors by facilitating weight management, optimizing sleep apnea care and improving blood pressure control. This innovative program brings together providers from across the Penn Health System to help patients improve their quality of life through more complete management of their heart rhythm condition.