Arrhythmia: All About Abnormal Heart Rhythms

Katherine Cork's picture
By Katherine Cork on February 4, 2020

Arrhythmia is the term used to explain an irregular heartbeat. It could feel like your heart is beating too fast (tachycardia), too slow (bradycardia), skipping beats or “fluttering”…and it can be scary.

These arrhythmias may be accompanied by other symptoms:

  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • More sweatiness than usual

If you experience an abnormal heart rhythm of any kind, make an appointment to see your provider to determine the cause. Treating the underlying condition will often make the arrhythmia go away.

High blood pressure can cause abnormal heartbeats, as can heart disease or other underlying heart conditions. But arrhythmia can also be caused by more temporary things, like too much caffeine, low potassium or medications like amphetamines or beta blockers. Even emotional stress or fear can cause your heart to beat irregularly.

Treatment could be as simple as making changes to your diet or lifestyle.

Certain lifestyle choices can increase your risks for arrhythmia, including:

  • Smoking
  • Stress
  • Being overweight
  • Being sedentary
  • A diet full of unhealthy foods
  • More than two alcoholic drinks per day
  • Drug use

Regular visits to your health care provider will help you keep an eye on your risks and any symptoms. He or she will listen to your heart, and if you’re having issues with irregular heartbeat, possibly take an electrocardiogram of your heart. If additional tests are needed to diagnose the issue, you may be referred to a cardiologist.

It's important to know your family history of heart disease or other heart conditions. Ask your family what they know, and be prepared to tell your provider.

For more information, visit the American Heart Association.
This article was reviewed by Carl Musser, Jr., M.D., with Carilion Clinic Cardiology.