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Types of arrhythmias: symptoms, causes and severity

Types of arrhythmias: symptoms, causes and severity

October 1, 2022

The alterations in the rhythm and in the frequency with which the heart pumps blood, whether due to excess, deficit or irregularity, are known as arrhythmias. Although in many cases these abnormalities are not serious or produce symptoms, in others they increase the risk of heart problems such as heart attacks or sudden stops.

In this article we will detail what types of arrhythmia exist and what are the causes, symptoms and severity from each of them. It should be borne in mind that some types of arrhythmia can pose a health risk even when they produce no symptoms.

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What are arrhythmias?

"Arrhythmia" is the name given to disorders of heart rate and heart rate . These alterations can consist in the increase, the decrease or the irregularity of the speed of the beats of the heart.


We speak of tachycardia when the rhythm and / or heart rate increase significantly (more than 100 beats per minute in adults), whereas if there is a slowdown (less than 60 beats per minute) we will be faced with a case of bradycardia.

Its severity is variable: while some arrhythmias are harmless, others may be a symptom of larger circulatory problems or even pose a short-term health risk, increasing the likelihood of suffer heart attacks or stops cardiac .

If the problems are severe, the treatment of arrhythmias usually consists of administering anticoagulant or beta-blocker medications, cardiac surgery or, in cases of bradycardia, implantation of a pacemaker. Each of the different types of arrhythmia is treated in a different way, since the alterations can be opposite each other.


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Causes of these alterations

Arrhythmias are due to alterations in the electrical impulses of the heart. These abnormalities can be caused by the appearance of supplementary electrical signals, the blocking or delay of electrical conduction or the propagation of these impulses through inadequate routes.

Although they can occur at any age, arrhythmias are most common in the elderly . In many cases they are influenced by congenital problems in the morphology of the heart or diseases such as arterial hypertension, diabetes, hyperthyroidism, hypothyroidism or heart failure.

The most common causes of tachycardia they are the consumption and abuse of medications and stimulants, such as antidepressants, antipsychotics, cocaine, alcohol and caffeine. The continued stress also favors the appearance of tachycardia. As for bradycardia, it usually occurs as a consequence of atrioventricular or cardiac blocks.


Symptoms and signs

In many cases, arrhythmias produce no symptoms or detectable signs, beyond the alteration in heart rhythm or heart rate. Even asymptomatic arrhythmias can predispose to the occurrence of heart problems and accidents, for example by the formation of clots that make it difficult to transport blood to the heart.

People with arrhythmia often notice palpitations or pauses between each heartbeat. These can be more or less frequent and occur continuously or intermittently.

In more severe cases of arrhythmia, there may be Symptoms such as fainting or syncopation , breathing difficulties, sweating, paleness, dizziness sensations and dizziness or pain in the chest. Also, the more severe the arrhythmia, the greater the probability of cardiac arrest, infarction or sudden death.

Types of arrhythmia and their severity

There are four main types of arrhythmia . Each of them is composed of a series of alterations of varying severity.

1. Extrasystoles

The extrasystoles consist of extra beats that arise from electrical impulses that propagate improperly to the whole heart. Is about premature ventricular contractions followed by a compensatory pause .

This type of arrhythmia is the most common of all and is not usually dangerous, so in general it does not require treatment. Usually extrasystoles are asymptomatic, although people who suffer them may notice agitation in the chest or the feeling that the heart skips a few heartbeats.

2. Supraventricular arrhythmias

This type of arrhythmia is characterized by the appearance of tachycardia in the atria of the heart or in the atrioventricular nodule, which as its name suggests is located between the ventricles and the atria.

Among supraventricular arrhythmias, the most common subtype are atrial fibrillations , rapid and irregular contractions to which severe severity is attributed since they indicate that the heart is not pumping blood correctly. Predispose to the occurrence of episodes of heart failure and stroke.

3. Ventricular arrhythmias

Ventricular arrhythmias cause approximately 80% of the total deaths due to sudden cardiac failure , so that they are considered a serious form of this disorder and usually justify medical intervention, especially when the episodes have a prolonged duration.

Among the factors that lead to the appearance of ventricular arrhythmias are the presence of heart disease, the weakening of muscles and the fact of having suffered previous heart attacks.

4. Bradiarrhythmias

These arrhythmias consist of bradycardia, that is to say, in the slowing down of the frequency or rhythm of the heart. When they are intense the blood does not reach the brain in the necessary amount, so that it can cause dizziness and even syncopes. In general we can say that its severity is lower than that of ventricular and supraventricular arrhythmias .

Some of the most common causes of bradyarrhythmia are aging, hypothyroidism, heart attacks or the use of drugs such as beta-blockers. However some people, especially if they are in good physical shape, usually have a heart rate less than 60 beats per minute; in these cases bradycardia is not a problem.


Introduction to Atrial Fibrillation by Dr. Kamal Kotak, Sharp HealthCare (October 2022).


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