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You are here : 3-RX.com > Medical Encyclopedia > Diseases and Conditions > Arrhythmias
      Category : Health Centers > Heart Diseases


Alternate Names : Irregular Heartbeat

Overview, Causes, & Risk Factors | Symptoms & Signs | Diagnosis & Tests | Prevention & Expectations | Treatment & Monitoring

An arrhythmia of the heart is an abnormality of the rhythm or rate of the heartbeat. The arrhythmia is caused by a disturbance of the normal electrical activity within the heart.

What is going on in the body?

Arrhythmias can be divided into 2 main groups: tachycardias and bradycardias. Tachycardias cause a rapid heartbeat, with over 100 beats per minute. Bradycardias cause a slow heartbeat, with less than 60 beats per minute. The rhythm of the heart may be regular during an arrhythmia. In other words, each beat of the atria, or upper chambers of the heart, is followed by one beat of the ventricles, or lower chambers of the heart. The beat may also be irregular and may begin in an abnormal area of the heart.

What are the causes and risks of the condition?

Most arrhythmias are caused by heart disease, including:

  • coronary artery disease, a condition in which atherosclerosis, or narrowing of the arteries, decreases the blood flow to the heart
  • disease of the heart valves, including infections known as endocarditis
  • disease of the tissue that surrounds the heart, such as bacterial pericarditis
  • congestive heart failure, a disorder in which a weakened heart fails to pump enough blood to body organs
  • Arrhythmias may also be caused by:

  • disease in the electrical system of the heart
  • chemicals such as adrenaline, alcohol, or caffeine
  • certain prescription medications, including tricyclic antidepressants, such as amitriptyline and nortriptyline
  • certain over-the-counter medications, such as pseudoephedrine
  • Arrhythmias may or may not be life threatening. In general, arrhythmias that begin in the upper part of the heart are less dangerous than those that begin in the lower chambers.


    Next section


    Arrhythmias: Symptoms & Signs

    Author: Marvin Kendrick, MD
    Reviewer: Eileen McLaughlin, RN, BSN
    Date Reviewed: 07/05/01

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