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Arrhythmia care to keep your heart healthy

Arrhythmia

Keeping hearts healthy and on rhythm

What is an arrhythmia?

You may have heard someone say, “My heart skipped a beat,” when they’re excited or scared. But an irregular heartbeat, called an arrhythmia, is more common than you’d think.

An arrhythmia occurs when an abnormal electrical impulse or abnormal electrical pathway occurs in your heart. There are many different types of arrhythmias, which can be temporary or permanent.

Often, arrhythmias are annoying but not life threatening. However, if left untreated, irregular heartbeats can interfere with how your heart pumps blood to the rest of your body, which can increase the likelihood of a blood clot, heart attack or stroke. The good news is that most arrhythmias are manageable with medications, procedures or devices such as pacemakers or defibrillators.

What are the symptoms of an arrhythmia?

Arrhythmias can vary by type and degree of severity, and each can cause different symptoms. However, some arrhythmias don’t cause any noticeable symptoms.

Arrhythmias are classified into two broad categories: bradycardia and tachycardia.

Bradycardia, or a heartbeat that’s too slow (beating less than 60 times per minute) can cause the following symptoms:

  • Feeling lightheaded or dizzy
  • Memory or cognition issues
  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fainting (also known as syncope)

Tachycardia, or a too-fast heartbeat (beating more than 100 times per minute) can cause:

  • Heart palpitations
  • Racing heart
  • Feeling lightheaded or dizzy
  • Anxiety
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • Sweating

Specific types of irregular heartbeats include:

Atrial fibrillation (aFib)
• Atrial flutter
• Premature atrial contractions
• Premature ventricular contraction (or PVC)
• Supraventricular arrhythmias
• Ventricular fibrillation

Feeling a fluttering sensation in your chest, heart palpitations or other symptoms of an irregular heartbeat doesn’t necessarily mean you have an arrhythmia. However, it’s important to talk to your doctor to rule out any underlying health conditions.

What causes an irregular heartbeat?

Things like caffeine, alcohol and stress can cause small, temporary arrhythmias, like PVCs. But certain behaviors, genetics and risk factors can increase your chances of developing a permanent arrhythmia.

  • High blood pressure: One-third of American adults have high blood pressure, or hypertension. Hypertension increases the risk of not only developing an arrhythmia, but experiencing a heart attack, stroke, heart failure or kidney failure.
  • Diabetes: Those with Type 2 diabetes are more likely to develop an arrhythmia.
  • Heart disease: People with a history of heart attacks or abnormal heart valves are more likely to develop heart rhythm problems.
  • Being overweight: People who have excess body fat — especially around the waist area — are more likely to develop an irregular heart rhythm, even if they have no other risk factors.
  • Family history: If you have a family member who has been diagnosed with heart disease prematurely (before 55 for men or 65 for women), you have a greater risk for developing a heart condition.
  • Age: The risk of developing an arrhythmia increases as you get older.
  • Other risk factors: The risk of developing an arrhythmia increases with:
    • Having sleep apnea, a thyroid condition or asthma
    • Electrolyte imbalances
    • Smoking
    • Recreational drug use

How is an arrhythmia diagnosed?

Our team of heart specialists is experienced in diagnosing and treating all kinds of arrhythmias.

We offer screening tests that use the most advanced technology to better detect irregular heartbeats, including:

  • Electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG) – The most common way to diagnose an arrhythmia, this noninvasive test uses small electrodes (or wires) attached to your chest and arms to record your heart’s electrical activity.
  • Heart monitor – Different types of heart rhythm monitors are available to wear anywhere from 24 hours to 4 weeks to record your heart’s electrical activity. This device helps your doctor monitor your heart’s rhythm.
  • Blood tests – These tests can also rule out any issues with your thyroid, liver or kidneys.
  • Echocardiogram – With this test, a wand-like device is placed on your chest and uses sound waves to create pictures of your heart chambers and valves.
  • Stress test – This test involves monitoring your heart while you exercise. A stress test helps assess blockages in the blood vessels of your heart as well as heart rhythm problems associated with exercise.
  • Tilt table test – During this noninvasive test, your doctor will have you lie on a special table while your heart rate and blood pressure are monitored when you are elevated to the standing position

Get treatment for an arrhythmia

Our heart specialists are trained in treating arrhythmias and other heart rhythm conditions. Schedule a consultation at 800-275-6401
For physicians: Make a referral

Arrhythmia care at Geisinger

Our heart team is here to provide you with compassionate care and the most advanced heart treatments available. We offer the latest minimally invasive procedures for both diagnosing and treating an irregular heartbeat.

Quicker recovery and less time in the hospital mean more time for you to do the things you love with those you love. We offer:

Lifestyle changes

A common cause of many arrhythmias is heart disease. There are several lifestyle changes your doctor may suggest to begin to undo damage caused by heart disease. These may include:

  • Quitting smoking
  • Exercising
  • Changing your diet
  • Losing weight
  • Reducing stress
  • Emotional support
Cardiac ablation

Using heat from radiofrequency (electrical cautery) energy or extreme cold (cryoablation), we can target the heart tissue causing the irregular heartbeat.
Cardioversion

During this common procedure, your doctor delivers an electrical shock to your heart to reset the heart rhythm back to normal.
Heart surgery

If your arrhythmia can’t be successfully managed through less invasive treatment options, such as medication or a catheter ablation, your heart doctor may recommend surgery.

Our heart surgeons use the latest techniques, including minimally invasive surgery, to treat heart conditions, offering you the best outcomes and path for healing. Our surgeons are highly trained and board certified, which means they’ve passed an optional national exam to demonstrate their medical expertise. Many of our surgeons are also fellowship trained, holding additional training in specific types of cardiac surgery. We routinely perform complex procedures that are often unavailable elsewhere in the area.

Pacemaker

If your heartbeat is too slow, your doctor may recommend a pacemaker. A pacemaker uses a battery to send electrical signals to your heart when needed to prevent slow heart beats. If your heartbeat is too slow, your doctor may recommend a pacemaker. A pacemaker uses a battery to send electrical signals to your heart that regulate your heartbeat when needed.
Medications

Your doctor may recommend prescription medications to help manage your symptoms and treat your arrhythmia, or blood thinners (anticoagulants) to prevent blood clots and stroke. This may include medications to control your heart’s rhythm or slow it down.
Implanted defibrillator

If your heartbeat is too fast, your doctor may suggest an implantable defibrillator. This device delivers an electric shock to rest the electrical activity of your heart if your heart starts to beat erratically.

Arrhythmia care at Geisinger

Our heart team is here to provide you with compassionate care and the most advanced heart treatments available. We offer the latest minimally invasive procedures for both diagnosing and treating an irregular heartbeat.
Quicker recovery and less time in the hospital mean more time for you to do the things you love with those you love. We offer:

  • The knowledge you need – Your heart team includes surgeons, doctors and specialists with years of training and experience. Their expertise has been honed by treating many people with heart arrhythmias every year. And their focus is on delivering the care best suited to your needs.
  • Excellent care where you live – With locations throughout central, northeast and south-central Pennsylvania, our experienced heart team provides consultations and comprehensive care. We offer leading-edge treatment options and tailored-to-you care backed by the expertise and innovation of a nationally recognized health system.
  • Heart rhythm treatments – From complex, exclusive and minimally invasive surgery options to national clinical trials and genetic testing, our heart specialists are dedicated to offering innovative treatment options and personalized care in convenient locations, so you don’t have to travel far.
  • Women’s heart health specialists – Our team of experts pursue breakthroughs and research that will impact the future of women’s heart health.
  • Genetic testing and counseling programs – Special research programs, such as MyCode®, are only available at Geisinger. Participating in MyCode allows you to contribute to genetic research. By participating, some may receive information about their own genetic risks. Learn about MyCode.