Cardiovascular diseases cause one in three deaths in Spain, making them the leading cause of death, even above cancer and respiratory diseases, according to the Spanish Heart Foundation. Among heart problems , arrhythmias are one of the most common .
What is an arrhythmia?
To understand what an arrhythmia is, you have to understand how the heart works. The heartbeat is produced by electrical impulses that cause the atria and ventricles to contract and relax.
These movements give rise to the two stages of the cardiac cycle: diastole and systole. Diastole occurs when the heart muscle relaxes and the chamber fills with blood, while systole is due to the contraction of the heart muscle that returns blood to the bloodstream.
This process occurs regularly and rhythmically, when it is disturbed, an arrhythmia occurs, which is nothing more than a heart rhythm disorder . Arrhythmias may be due to the electrical impulse not being generated properly, it originates in the wrong place, or there is an alteration in the electrical conduction pathways.
What types of arrhythmias are there?
There are different types of cardiac arrhythmias, which can be classified by their origin, mode of presentation, or frequency . The most common classification takes into account the speed of the heart rate :
- In this type of arrhythmia, the heartbeat rate exceeds 100 bpm at rest. If the heart beats too fast, it will not be able to complete its cycle and it will not pump enough blood to the body, so that the necessary amount of oxygen will not reach some organs. This can lead to dizziness, a feeling of breathlessness, vertigo, sudden weakness, a trembling chest, or even fainting. Other symptoms of this type of arrhythmia are a racing pulse, a “jumping” sensation in the chest, and a rapid heartbeat.
- Bradycardia This type of arrhythmia refers to a resting heartbeat rate below 60 bpm. When a person has bradycardia, the heart cannot pump enough blood either, so oxygen delivery to other organs is decreased. For that reason, this type of arrhythmia is accompanied by symptoms such as fatigue or rapid tiredness during physical activity, shortness of breath, dizziness, confusion, chest pain, and fainting.
It should be clarified that arrhythmia can be present all the time, in which case it refers to a chronic arrhythmia , or it can be intermittent and occur only on specific occasions, which is known as paroxysmal arrhythmia .
What professional treats arrhythmias?
Different types of arrhythmias don’t always indicate a problem. However, if they appear frequently and at rest, it is important to see a doctor. Cardiologists are the specialists in the diagnosis and treatment of diseases that affect the cardiovascular system , including the heart and blood vessels.
Treatment will basically depend on the type of cardiac arrhythmia and its cause . For bradycardia, when non-cardiac causes are ruled out, a pacemaker may be placed to record electrical activity and stimulate the heart when necessary. In the case of tachycardias, it is important to treat predisposing or aggravating factors, in addition to controlling the arrhythmia with drugs that reduce the heart rate . Patients at risk for life-threatening arrhythmias may be implanted with a defibrillator that delivers electrical shocks into the heart to stop life-threatening arrhythmias.
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