Arrhythmias may not cause any signs or symptoms. In fact, your doctor might find you have an arrhythmia before you do, during a routine examination. Noticeable signs and symptoms don't necessarily mean you have a serious problem, however.
Noticeable arrhythmia symptoms may include:
- A fluttering in your chest
- A racing heartbeat (tachycardia)
- A slow heartbeat (bradycardia)
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath
- Fainting (syncope) or near fainting
When to see a doctor
Arrhythmias may cause you to feel premature heartbeats, or you may feel that your heart is racing or beating too slowly. Other signs and symptoms may be related to reduced blood output from your heart. These include shortness of breath or wheezing, weakness, dizziness, lightheadedness, fainting or near fainting, and chest pain or discomfort. Seek urgent medical care if you suddenly or frequently experience any of these signs and symptoms at a time when you wouldn't expect to feel them.
Ventricular fibrillation (VF) is one type of arrhythmia that can be deadly. It occurs when the heart beats with rapid, erratic electrical impulses. This causes pumping chambers in your heart (the ventricles) to quiver uselessly instead of pumping blood. Without an effective heartbeat, blood pressure plummets, cutting off blood supply to your vital organs. A person with ventricular fibrillation will collapse within seconds and soon won't be breathing or have a pulse. If this occurs, follow these steps:
Feb. 27, 2013
- Call 911 or the emergency number in your area.
- If there's no one nearby trained in cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), provide hands-only CPR. That means uninterrupted chest compressions of about 100 a minute until paramedics arrive. To do chest compressions, push hard and fast in the center of the chest. You don't need to do rescue breathing.
- If you or someone nearby knows CPR, begin providing it if it's needed. CPR can help maintain blood flow to the organs until an electrical shock (defibrillation) can be given.
- Find out if an automated external defibrillator (AED) is available nearby. These portable defibrillators, which can deliver an electric shock that may restart heartbeats, are available in an increasing number of places, such as in airplanes, police cars and shopping malls. They can even be purchased for your home. No training is required. The AED will tell you what to do. They're programmed to allow a shock only when appropriate.
- Arrhythmias. The Merck Manuals: The Merck Manual for Healthcare Professionals. http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/cardiovascular_disorders/arrhythmias_and_conduction_disorders/overview_of_arrhythmias.html. Accessed Jan. 29. 2013.
- What is an arrhythmia? National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/arr/. Accessed Jan. 29, 2013.
- Substances & heart rhythm disorders. Heart Rhythm Society. http://www.hrsonline.org/Patient-Resources/Substances-Heart-Rhythm-Disorders#axzz2JbtJY5qH. Accessed Jan. 31, 2013.
- Stone CK, et al. Current Diagnosis & Treatment Emergency Medicine. 7th ed. New York, N.Y.: The McGraw-Hill Companies; 2011. http://www.accessmedicine.com/content.aspx?aID=55753892. Accessed January 28, 2013.
- Wang, PJ, et al. Supraventricular tachycardia. Circulation. 2002;106:e206.
- Drugs with risk of Torsades de Pointes. Credible Meds. http://www.azcert.org/medical-pros/drug-lists/list-01.cfm?sort=Generic_name. Accessed Jan. 30, 2013.
- Drugs with possible risk of Torsades de Pointes. http://www.azcert.org/medical-pros/drug-lists/list-02.cfm. Accessed Jan. 30, 2013.
- Understand your risk for arrhythmia. American Heart Association. http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/Arrhythmia/UnderstandYourRiskforArrhythmia/Understand-Your-Risk-for-Arrhythmia_UCM_002024_Article.jsp. Accessed Jan. 30, 2013.
- Antithrombotic therapy supplement. Bloomington, Minn.: Institute for Clinical Systems Improvement.https://www.icsi.org/_asset/bjr47w/Antithromb-Interactive0512.pdf. Accessed Jan. 29, 2013.
- Pradaxa (dabigatran etexilate mesylate): Drug safety communication. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. http://www.fda.gov/Safety/MedWatch/SafetyInformation/SafetyAlertsforHumanMedicalProducts/ucm282820.htm. Accessed Jan.28, 2013.
- Rix TA, et al. Omega-3 fatty acids and cardiac arrhythmias. Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care. In press. Accessed Jan. 29, 2013.
- U.S. News best hospitals: Cardiology & heart surgery. U.S. News and World Report. http://health.usnews.com/best-hospitals/rankings/cardiology-and-heart-surgery. Accessed Feb. 1, 2013.
- Hands-only CPR fact sheet. American Heart Association. http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/CPRAndECC/HandsOnlyCPR/LearnMore/Learn-More_UCM_440810_FAQ.jsp. Accessed Feb. 10, 2013.