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An arrhythmia is an abnormal heart rhythm - too fast, too slow, or irregular. Arrhythmias occur when the electrical system that controls the heart functions abnormally. An arrhythmia can occur in either the upper chamber, known as the atrium, or the lower chamber, the ventricle, of the heart. Arrhythmias keep the heart from pumping blood effectively. While occasional palpitations may not be serious, some arrhythmias are severe and could be life threatening.

There are three categories of arrhythmias:

  • Fast Heart Rhythm
  • Slow Heart Rhythm
  • Uncoordinated Heart Rhythm

Arrhythmias: What you Need to Know

Prevention

While some arrhythmias result from genetic predisposition, a healthy diet and lifestyle are helpful in preventing the development of any cardiac disease. Exercise regularly, eat a low-fat diet filled with fruits and vegetables, avoid smoking and excessive alcohol or caffeine intake, and find ways to manage stress.

Personalized Care

Our team is committed to spending as much time with you and your family as needed to answer your questions and develop a personalized care and treatment plan.

Experienced, Expert Care

The Heart Rhythm Program at The UVM Health Network includes internationally-recognized experts, several of whom were recruited from the world-renowned Cardiac Arrhythmia Research Institute, a center on the frontiers of heart rhythm care. We coordinate care around the network because we believe that patients around the region with heart rhythm disorders should have access to the best care close to home.

What are Arrhythmias?

There are three categories of arrhythmias:

Fast Heart Rhythms

A fast heart rhythm is when your heart beats too quickly. There are a few types of fast heart rhythms:

Atrial fibrillation

Atrial fibrillation is one of the most common types of heart rhythm disorders, affecting over 2 million Americans. Often called AFib, the condition occurs when the atria, or upper chambers of the heart, beat in an irregular pattern. Blood does not flow effectively into the ventricles, and the resulting blood clotting can lead to a stroke.

Ventricular tachycardia

Ventricular tachycardia is a rapid heart rate that starts in the heart's lower chambers, or ventricles, and is often associated with other heart problems. Abnormal electrical signals cause the heart to beat too fast to fill before contracting, keeping blood from flowing effectively throughout the body. Ventricular tachycardia requires immediate attention, as it can be life threatening.

Supraventricular tachycardia (SVT)

SVT is a rapid heart rate that starts in the heart’s upper chambers and shortens the time available for the heart to fill before contracting, reducing its ability to send blood to the rest of the body. SVT is not typically life threatening but can cause palpitations, fatigue, shortness of breath or even passing out.

Sudden cardiac arrest

Sudden cardiac arrest occurs when a person’s heart suddenly stops functioning, causing blood to stop flowing to the body’s vital organs. Sudden cardiac arrest usually occurs in conjunction with other heart problems and can lead to death if not treated within minutes.

Slow Heart Rhythms

Bradycardia is a slow heart rate, typically fewer than 60 beats per minute for adults. Bradycardia is more prevalent in people 65 years of age and older and can cause shortness of breath, fatigue, dizziness, and fainting. In severe cases, bradycardia can lead to cardiac arrest.

Uncoordinated Heart Rhythms

Ventricular dyssynchrony, or uncoordinated heart rhythm, is a condition in which the two ventricles of the your heart beat out of sync with each other. The difference in timing reduces the heart’s ability to pump blood and can lead to severe problems.

Risk factors for fast, slow, or uncoordinated heart rhythms include:

  • Heart disease
  • Congenital conditions, like an abnormal heart valve
  • An electrolyte abnormality in the blood, such as low potassium
  • Certain medications and addictive substances
  • Thyroid disorders
  • Low levels of oxygen in the blood

Diagnosis and Treatment: Arrhythmias

Many heart rhythm disorders are harmless, and some can be easily treated with medications. Others may require cardiac ablation or the implantation of a pacemaker or defibrillator. Once your doctor has diagnosed an arrhythmia, they will help you understand and evaluate appropriate treatments.

The UVM Health Network Heart Rhythm Program offers leading treatments, including:

  • Inpatient and outpatient arrhythmia care
  • Eletrophysiologic studies
  • Ambulatory heart monitoring
  • Complex catheter ablation
  • Implantation of pacemakers, defibrillators, biventricular resynchronization devices and physiologic (direct His-bundle) pacing devices

To make an appointment with one of our specialists, please call (518) 481-2545.