Arrhythmia IntroductionIn general, arrhythmias are caused by problems with the heart’s electrical system. The heart acts as a pump and to regulate the pump, the heart uses an electrical system which triggers the pump’s contractions. The electrical signals begin in the upper part of the heart (the atrial chambers area) and travel through pre-established electrical pathways down to the lower chambers. The lower chambers (ventricles) receive the signals which trigger heart contractions. This causes blood to be pumped out to the entire body. The frequency of these contractions is a person’s heart rate or pulse rate. The normal heart rate range for individuals is 60 to 100 beats per minute.

Electrical Heart Problems Symptoms

When the electrical system in the heart malfunctions, arrhythmias can result. The problems that can occur will range from harmless to life-threatening. In the broadest sense, irregularities in heart rhythms are caused by blocked or delayed electrical signals which control the heart muscles. These electrical issues and the resulting arrhythmias may be caused by one or more of the following problems:

  • Malfunctions in the special nerve cells can produce delayed or irregular electrical signals.
  • Problems sometimes arise when the electrical pathways are blocked or cause the signal to take an incorrect route from the upper to the lower chambers. If the electrical signals are re-routed or slowed as they travel over these ‘circuits,’ heart contractions may become too fast or too slow.
  • In some cases, other parts of the heart muscle will start to produce electrical signals. When this occurs, these random signals add to the ‘normal’ signals and disrupt the heartbeat.
  • Scar tissue can develop over the site where the electrical signals are produced which interrupts the signals and, should the scarring become extensive, block the signals entirely.
  • Heavy use of alcohol, smoking, some illegal drugs, certain prescription medications, some over-the-counter drugs, or excessive caffeine can lead to arrhythmias in people with normal hearts. These lifestyle choices result in damaged heart cells which ultimately interfere with the electrical circuitry of the heart. Also, these choices can induce irregular heartbeats in individuals with existing heart problems.
  • High levels of emotional stress, elevated blood pressures, or prolonged anger releases stress hormones that can sometimes lead to arrhythmias.
  • If the heart’s electrical system is damaged as a result of a heart attack, prolonged high blood pressure, coronary heart disease, hypothyroidism, heart failure, or rheumatic fever the damage can result in arrhythmias.
  • Often arrhythmias have no known cause or are a result of congenital heart defects.
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Atrial Fibrillation Centers of America