Normally the heart will beat between 60 - 80 times per minute. This regular rhythmic beating is dependent upon electrical signals being conducted throughout the whole heart.
If the electrical signals within the heart are interrupted or disturbed then the heart can beat too quickly (tachycardia), too slowly (bradycardia) and / or in an irregular way. This is called an arrhythmia. Atrial fibrillation (AF) is the most common type of arrhythmia.
Common causes of arrhythmias include:
- Complications from a heart attack or heart surgery
- Coronary heart disease
- High blood pressure
- Heart valve problems
There are many different types of arrhythmias some of which are normal and harmless. Some arrhythmias are more serious and will need to be corrected.
Occasional tachycardia or irregular arrhythmias can often be the result of taking everyday stimulants, such as caffeine found in fizzy drinks and coffee. Cigarettes, alcohol, stress and illegal drugs (e.g. cocaine) can also be responsible for arrhythmias. Making changes to your lifestyle to eliminate these factors can often be the solution.
Depending on your symptoms, and the type of arrhythmia you have, your heart specialist may suggest fitting an artificial pacemaker device. There are two different types:
- Pacemakers: monitor how your heart is beating and correct any problems by stimulating the heart chambers to beat regularly enough to meet your body's needs.
- ICDs (Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillators): are life-saving devices, similar to pacemakers. They are programmed to pick up and stop specific life-threatening arrhythmias and restore your heart to its normal rhythm.