Without treatment, some arrhythmias can lead to life threatening complications, such as heart failure, cardiac arrest, or a stroke.
In this article, we discuss the types of arrhythmia that can be life threatening and outline their causes, symptoms, risk factors, and treatment.
Arrhythmia is a condition that causes the heart to beat abnormally or irregularly. Arrhythmia can cause a person’s heart to beat too fast, too slowly, or with an irregular rhythm.
If people do not receive treatment for arrhythmia, it can lead to life-threatening complications, such as heart failure, stroke, or cardiac arrest. The heart may not be able to pump blood around the body properly, which can damage organs, such as the brain and heart.
According to the
It is possible for a person to feel an irregular heartbeat. It may feel like their heart has skipped a beat or that it is slow or racing.
More serious symptoms of arrhythmia include:
Some types of arrhythmia can cause a person to have a sudden cardiac arrest (SCA), which can be life threatening. According to the Arrhythmia Alliance, SCA is a condition where the heart suddenly stops working due to a malfunctioning of its electrical system.
A person may show the following signs of having a cardiac arrest:
- unresponsiveness and not responding to tapping on the shoulders
- loss of consciousness
- lack of normal breathing — for example, a person may stop breathing entirely or gasp for breath
- lack of pulse
We outline the types of arrhythmia that can lead to SCA below.
Disordered electrical signals in the heart
When the ventricles fibrillate, it can prevent the heart from pumping blood. This can cause the heart to collapse and trigger SCA.
One 2021 article states that nearly
Causes of V-fib
A number of factors can cause V-fib,
- poor blood flow to the heart muscle
- damaged heart muscle
- issues with the aorta
- toxicity from drugs
Treatment of V-fib
- call 911 for emergency medical assistance
- give the person
- use an
automated external defibrillator (AED)if available
Some people’s hearts may tolerate ventricular tachycardia and not collapse, but for others, it can be life threatening, requiring immediate treatment. This also depends on the extent of the condition and whether the arrhythmia affects other heart structures and functions.
Sometimes, a person with an arrhythmia can feel well, but their heart might pump so fast that it increases pressure in the heart. This can cause fluid to back up in the lungs or the heart muscle to become weak and unstable.
According to the American Heart Association (
Causes of ventricular tachycardia
There are a number of factors that can cause ventricular tachycardia. These
- lack of blood flow to the heart, depriving the heart tissues of oxygen
- cardiomyopathy that distorts the structure of the heart
- illicit drug use
- medication side effects
- sarcoidosis, which is an inflammatory disease affecting skin or body tissues
Treatment of ventricular tachycardia
According to the
Common treatments for ventricular tachycardia include medication, surgery, or catheter ablation with radiofrequency ablation.
If a person is in cardiac arrest, they may require immediate
High-grade atrioventricular heart block (HAVB) is the
There are two types of HAVB: second degree or type two, and third degree or complete heart block. It happens when there are no electrical signals reaching the ventricles from the atria. HAVB can result in bradycardia, which is a slow heart rate. This in turn leads to fatigue, shortness of breath, or loss of consciousness/fainting.
If a person does not receive immediate treatment, their
Congenital complete heart block can be discovered at birth or may be due to other conditions. According to the
Causes of HAVB
HAVB has a number of possible causes, including:
- congenital heart disease
- coronary heart disease
- thickened heart muscle
- heart attack
- some lung conditions
- infections such as Lyme disease
- heart procedures such as ablation or surgery
- electrolyte problems, such as high or low blood levels of calcium, magnesium, and potassium
- aging of the heart’s electrical pathways
Treatment for HAVB
A person will need to have an EKG in the hospital, which shows the electrical rhythm of the heart and can help doctors diagnose HAVB.
Doctors usually insert a pacemaker for anyone with HAVB that is causing a slow heart rate or other symptoms.
If a person’s HAVB is due to a heart attack, doctors may insert a temporary pacemaker. If the heart rhythm does not return to normal soon after the heart attack, doctors will insert a permanent pacemaker.
If a person has HAVB due to medications or electrolyte imbalances, doctors will give treatments to reverse the medications or correct the imbalances.
Sick sinus syndrome happens when the SA node does not function normally. The SA node, an area of specialized cells in the atria, usually sends electrical signals to the rest of the heart that trigger the cardiac muscle to contract and pump blood. It is the pacemaker of the heart.
In sick sinus syndrome, the SA node malfunctions or something disrupts the electrical impulses. This can make the heart beat too slowly, too fast, or switch between the two, known as tachycardia-bradycardia syndrome.
This condition is most common in older adults, but it can affect people of any age. It can increase the risk of complications such as atrial fibrillation, heart failure, syncope, cardiac arrest, and stroke.
Causes of sick sinus syndrome
The genetic or environmental factors that can cause sick sinus syndrome include:
- mutations in particular genes, which are usually not inherited
- muscular dystrophy
- abnormal inflammation
- a shortage of oxygen, or hypoxia
- trauma to the SA node, which can happen during heart surgery
- age-related changes in the heart, such as fibrosis or hardening of the SA node
Treatment for sick sinus syndrome
Doctors usually treat sick sinus syndrome by changing medicines if they could be contributing to the condition or inserting a pacemaker to control a person’s heartbeat.
Can other arrhythmias be dangerous?
There are other arrhythmias that can have dangerous complications. These include:
- Long QT syndrome (LQTS): This rare disorder causes the heart’s ventricles to take too long to contract and release. This can cause rapid, uncoordinated heartbeats. Long QT syndrome can cause fainting or SCA. According to the NHLBI, for about
1 in 10people with LQTS, SCA is the first sign of the disorder.
- Short QT syndrome (SQTS): This extremely rare genetic disorder is when the heart muscle takes less time than usual to contract and release. It can cause life threatening arrhythmias to occur when a person is resting or during exercise, with no apparent trigger.
- Torsades de pointes: This is a complication of LQTS and happens when the ventricles beat faster than the atria. It can develop into ventricular fibrillation, which is a medical emergency. A person with torsades de pointes will need immediate medical care.
There are a number of factors that can increase a person’s risk of developing arrhythmia. They
- Heart disease: Certain types of heart disease, such as from high blood pressure, can increase a person’s chances of developing arrhythmia.
- Age: A person’s chances of developing arrhythmia increase as they get older.
- Congenital conditions: If a person is born with a congenital heart defect, it may increase their risk of arrhythmia.
- Chemical agents: Certain chemical agents can also cause arrhythmias. If a person has exposure to high levels of certain minerals such as potassium, magnesium, and calcium, this may increase their risk of developing arrhythmia. Some cardiac medications can also cause arrhythmia.
- Smoking: A 2018 review concluded that tobacco use can increase a person’s chances of developing atrial fibrillation.
- Recreational drug use: Using illicit drugs, such as
cocaineand amphetamine, can increase a person’s chance of developing arrhythmia.
- Cardiomyopathy: A group of conditions in which the walls of the heart chambers become thickened, stiff, or stretched. There are several types of cardiomyopathy, which are mostly inherited and seen in children and young people.
There are a number of steps that a person can take to lower their chances of developing arrhythmia. These
If a person is experiencing symptoms of arrhythmia, they should contact a doctor. Some symptoms may require immediate care, while others may have links to underlying conditions that need diagnosis and treatment.
Arrhythmia is the term for an irregular or abnormal heartbeat. The heart may beat too fast, too slow, or irregularly.
Many types of arrhythmia are not a cause for concern. However, without treatment, some arrhythmias can cause cardiac arrest or lead to other serious complications.
Common symptoms of arrhythmia include feeling faint, dizziness, weakness, fatigue, and a pounding sensation in the chest.
Factors that can increase a person’s chances of having an arrhythmia include a history of heart disease, becoming older, having a congenital heart defect, exposure to some chemical agents, smoking, and recreational drug use.
To lower the chances of developing an arrhythmia, a person can take steps to reduce high blood pressure, lower their cholesterol levels, maintain moderate weight, and eat a heart-healthy, balanced diet. They may also wish to stop or avoid smoking, avoid secondhand smoke, become physically active, and reduce alcohol consumption.