Arrhythmias occur when the heart stops beating in a regular rhythm or beats too fast or too slow. This happens when there is a malfunction in some part of the heart’s electrical system. This system transfers electrical impulses around the heart causing the heart muscle to contract (i.e. heartbeat). Arrhythmias can be felt in different ways. Some of the feelings associated with arrhythmias include:

  • Skipping a heartbeat
  • Occasional extra heartbeats and
  • Rapid heartbeat or pounding in the chest

Some arrhythmias are not serious and may occur in healthy hearts. Other arrhythmias may need medical treatment.

A normal heart rate is around 60 – 100 beats per minute. When the heart rate beats too fast or slow, this will be referred to as an arrhythmia. Common terms associated with arrhythmia:

  • Tachycardia is when your heart beats too quickly, usually more than 100 beats per minute.
  • Bradycardia is when the heart beats too slowly, usually less than 50 beats per minute.
  • Atrial Fibrillation is a type of abnormal heart rhythm. It causes the upper chambers of the heart to beat rapidly and out of rhythm with the lower chambers of the heart. This causes the irregular heart rhythm and can reduce the ability of the heart to pump blood efficiently through the body.
  • Supraventricular tachycardia (SVT) is an abnormally fast or erratic heartbeat that affects the heart’s upper chambers. During an episode of SVT, your heart can beat about 150 to 220 times per minute, but it can occasionally beat faster or slower. Most people with supraventricular tachycardia are able to live healthy lives without any form of restrictions or treatment. For others, they may require some lifestyle changes, medication and/or heart procedures to control or eliminate the rapid heartbeats and related symptoms

Know Your Pulse

Knowing your pulse can help you determine if you have an arrhythmia. Taking your pulse for just 30 seconds at several different times of the day, including before and after various activities, can give you an understanding of your regular rhythm and help you understand if anything changes. It is normal for your pulse to vary over the day and around activities such as exercise. Taking your pulse when you first wake in the morning and at night before bed can help you determine your baseline rhythm.

On taking your pulse, count for 30 seconds then multiply by 2 to get your heart rate in beats per minute.  If you notice your rhythm is irregular count for the full 60 seconds instead of multiplying.

If you have a persistent heart rate above 120 bpm or below 40 bpm and/or if the rhythm is irregular, too fast, too slow you should see your Doctor.

If your doctor diagnoses an arrhythmia, they will explain your particular arrhythmia to you in more detail including its cause and treatment and answer any questions you may have.

To learn about other types of heart conditions click here.