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What does an irregular heartbeat mean?

One might compare the heart to a house which contains an electrical pumping system. The reason the heart beats throughout one's lifetime is due to the sophisticated electrical system within the muscle walls of the heart. The heart has a natural pacemaker which provides an electrical signal that starts in the upper chambers and, in turn, signals the lower chambers. This pacemaker action causes the heart to beat, effectively pumping blood into and out of the heart to other parts of the body.

Instances can occur throughout one's lifetime during which the heart experiences an electrical "short circuit", so to speak, which causes the heart to beat irregularly. This irregularity is called an "arrhythmia", of which there are several different types and causes. It is very common for individuals to have an early or "skipped" heartbeat occasionally, and, fortunately, for most people, this is not a sign of a major structural heart abnormality.

However, a very irregular heartbeat, a very rapid heartbeat, or a very slow heartbeat can pose a much greater risk for patients, and my advise to anyone who experiences these kinds of rhythms is to see your family physician for evaluation of the arrhythmia. Studies such as an electrocardiogram or a Holter monitor, which is a recording device that the patient wears for 24-hours to continuously record the heartbeat, can be done it an attempt to determine the type and cause of the arrhythmia. Oftentimes these more serious rhythm problems can be treated safely with medication.

However, some kinds of arrhythmias can be life-threatening and need to be addressed through more sophisticated techniques for diagnosis and treatment. Tremendous progress has been made in the field of cardiac electrophysiology in the past ten years. In addition to implantable devices which override the heart's own pacemaker when an irregularity in heart rhythm is detected by the device, a new procedure called radio-frequency ablation targets the cause of the "short circuit" within the heart.

It should be noted that feelings of a fast or irregular heartbeat can be brought on through excessive use of caffeine or alcohol and/or smoking. However, should you experience any symptoms related to a fast heartbeat or palpitation, especially if associated with a feeling of faintness, medical advice should be sought.


Galichia Medical Group, P.A.
2600 N Woodlawn
Wichita, KS 67220

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