Arrhythmias are abnormal beats of the heart. Types of arrhythmias include:

  • Heartbeats that are too slow (bradycardia)
  • Heartbeats that are too fast (tachycardia)
  • Extra beats
  • Skipped beats
  • Beats coming from abnormal areas of the heart


An arrhythmia can be caused by:

  • The heart's natural pacemaker (sinoatrial node [SA node]) developing an abnormal rate or rhythm
  • The normal conduction path being interrupted
  • Another part of the heart taking over as pacemaker


Factors that may increase the risk of arrhythmias include:

  • Lifestyle factors, such as excess caffeine, stress, smoking, alcohol abuse, drug abuse (eg, cocaine abuse)
  • Certain medicines, such as diet pills, decongestants, and antidepressants
  • Heart-related conditions, such as coronary artery disease (CAD), problems with heart valves, heart muscle damage after heart attack, rheumatic heart disease, cardiomyopathy
  • Other conditions, such as anemia, high blood pressure, diabetes, liver disease, endocrine disorders (eg, thyroid or adrenal gland problems), typhoid fever, hypothermia, electric shock or lightening strike, near-drowning
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Some arrhythmias may occur without any symptoms. Others may cause noticeable symptoms, such as:

  • Fainting
  • Dizziness, sensation of light-headedness
  • Sensation of your heart fluttering (palpitations)
  • Sensation of a missed or extra heart beat
  • Weakness
  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain


The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. The doctor will listen to your heart with an instrument called a stethoscope.

Tests may include:

  • Blood tests and urine tests
  • Your doctor may need pictures of your heart. This can be done with:
    • Echocardiogram
    • Nuclear scanning
    • Coronary angiography
  • Your doctor may need to record your heart functions. This can be done with:
    • Electrocardiogram (EKG) — records the heart's activity by measuring electrical currents through the heart muscle
    • 24-hour Holter monitor (a portable EKG that you wear as you do your daily activities)
    • Exercise stress test — records the heart's electrical activity during increased physical activity
    • Electrophysiological study — shows electrical impulses as they travel through the heart


UVA has pioneered many advances in the diagnosis and treatment of abnormal heart rhythms.  These include technologies to identify the origin of abnormal rhythms and visualize the heart during catheter studies.

Treatments at UVA include:

  • Drug therapy
  • Pacemakers
  • Catheter and surgical ablations
  • Implantable cardioverter defibrillators (ICDs)
  • Cardiac resynchronization therapy (sometimes referred to as biventricular pacing) for heart failure patients


To help prevent arrhythmias:

  • Treat underlying conditions that might lead to arrhythmias.
  • Avoid substances (eg, caffeine, alcohol, tobacco, and certain medicines) that trigger arrhythmia or make it worse.
  • Follow general advice to prevent heart disease, including:
    • Maintain a healthy weight.
    • Talk to your doctor about a safe exercise program.
    • Do not smoke. If you smoke, quit.
    • Eat a healthy diet that is low in saturated fat and rich in whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.
    • If you have a long-lasting medical condition, get proper treatment.
    • Ask your doctor if you should take cholesterol-lowering medicine.

Content was created using EBSCO’s Health Library. Edits to original content made by Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia. This information is not a substitute for professional medical advice.

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