What Is Arrhythmia (Cardiac Arrhythmia)?

A cardiac arrhythmia is an abnormal heartbeat resulting from malfunctioning electrical impulses that govern your heartbeat. With cardiac arrhythmia, your heart may be beating too slowly, too quickly or irregularly. This can feel like your heart is fluttering or racing in your chest. There are several types of arrhythmias, including:

  • Tachycardia – rapid heartbeat with a rate of more than 100 beats per minute.
  • Bradycardia – a slow heartbeat with a rate of less than 60 beats per minute.
  • Ventricular arrhythmias – irregular heartbeats that originate in the lower chambers or ventricles.
  • Supraventricular arrhythmias – irregular heartbeats that originate in the heart's upper chambers or atria.
  • Bradyarrhythmias – slow heartbeats that may be caused by disease.

What Causes Cardiac Arrhythmia?

Many things can cause cardiac arrhythmia, including the following:

  • High blood pressure.
  • Valve disorders.
  • Cardiomyopathy.
  • Coronary artery disease.
  • Electrolyte imbalances.
  • Heart attack injury, such as scarring.
  • Diabetes.
  • Smoking.
  • Alcohol overconsumption.
  • Too much caffeine.
  • Some prescription medications.
  • Stress.
  • Drug abuse.
  • Thyroid issues (hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism).

Symptoms of Cardiac Arrhythmia

Many people may never notice their arrhythmias, or they may experience a slight fluttering or feeling of a skipped beat.

You could experience any of the following symptoms from an arrhythmia:

  • Heart palpitations.
  • Chest pain or pounding in the chest.
  • Dizziness.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Lightheadedness.
  • Weakness or fatigue.
  • Fainting.

Diagnosis of Arrhythmia (Cardiac Arrhythmia)

If you're showing symptoms, you should make an appointment with a cardiologist or electrophysiologist to determine the cause and severity of your arrhythmia, and you may undergo one or more of the following tests:

  • Echocardiogram.
  • Ambulatory monitoring such as a Holter monitor or transtelephonic monitor.
  • Stress test.
  • Cardiac catheterization.
  • Electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG).
  • Electrophysiology study.
  • Tilt table test.

Treatment at Penn

Medications and lifestyle changes may be all you need to treat and control your arrhythmia. However, if you require the next step in treatment, know that Penn Medicine is a national and international leader the most common treatments for cardiac arrhythmias, including implantable cardio defibrillators (ICD), catheter ablations and open heart surgery. Penn surgeons take on the most challenging cases, offering a variety of approaches not commonly available at other medical centers.

When you choose Penn Medicine, you're choosing to work with a dedicated team of cardiologists and electrophysiologists who have pioneered and long perfected these treatments, leading the field in new research and innovation.

Penn Programs & Services for Arrhythmia (Cardiac Arrhythmia)

Penn Cardiac Electrophysiologist with patient
Cardiac Arrhythmia

Internationally recognized program for diagnosing, treating and researching cardiac arrhythmias

Treatments & Procedures for Arrhythmia (Cardiac Arrhythmia)

Ablation Procedures

Our team has extensive experience with catheter ablation for AFib and VT.


Learn how cardioversion is used to treat cardiac arrhythmias.


Dominic's Story

Cardiac Arrhythmia

As a retired Philadelphia police officer, Dominic spent his whole life in this city. He says, "I know what's best, and that's why I chose Penn Medicine."

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