Cardiac Arrhythmia - Medical Malpractice Lawyers

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Cardiac Arrhythmia - Medical Malpractice

Rhythm problems of the heart involve an alteration in the electrical current through the heart that can result in an uneven beat, a rapid beat or a slow heart beat. A heart that isn't beating properly can adversely affect the rest of the function of the body. Irregular heartbeats are common and usually completely benign. Everyone has had some form of irregular beat in the past but most do not yield serious heart problems. Some heart arrhythmias are serious, however, and can cause a life threatening or dangerous condition.

Arrhythmias might not have any specific symptom or sign. The most common symptoms include a rapid heartbeat or fluttering of the chest, the feeling of a slow heart beat, a racing heartbeat, shortness of breath, lightheadedness or fainting. If there are symptoms of a heart arrhythmia, you should consider seeking immediate medical attention, including calling 911 if you are having severe or dangerous symptoms. It is a good idea to have everyone in the family knows how to do CPR and look for a portable defibrillator if you are in a public place. They are usually red boxes located on the walls of airports, malls and auditoriums or ball fields.

In a normal heart, the beat begins in the sinus node in the atrial septum of the heart. The signal is sent down to the atrioventricular node and then travels down the rest of the septum of the heart and spreads up to the ventricles along the outer aspects of the ventricles. If something goes wrong anywhere with this pathway, you can get arrhythmias. A heart beat can be normal anywhere between 60 and 100, so long as it is regular and reveals a normal sinus rhythm on a heart monitor.

Damage to the heart, such as in a heart attack, can cause a portion of the heart to die and, if it is an electrical part of the heart that dies, there is a probability of a heart arrhythmia. Things like high blood pressure, diabetes, elevated thyroid conditions, alcohol intake, smoking, drug use, certain herbal remedies, stress and some medications can contribute to the onset of a heart arrhythmia. Valvular damage to the heart can cause a heart arrhythmia.

Cardiac arrhythmias come in two categories: bradyarrhythmias and tachyarrhythmias. The first is too slow and the second is too fast. There are rhythm disturbances with a normal heart rate as well but they don't tend to be terribly dangerous.

Tachyarrhythmias include atrial fibrillation, in which the atrial part of the beat is chaotic and only the ventricular beat at the AV node causes the rhythm to propagate. Atrial flutter happens when the AV node send out rapid signals that are picked up by the ventricle at various intervals along the way. Supraventricular tachycardia comes from the atrium and is a fast, narrow complex rhythm. It is from a single beat that is recycling itself over and over again. Ventricular tachycardia is a dangerous ventricular rhythm in which the ventricles fail to fill all the way and the blood circulation is impaired. The beat can exceed 200 beats per minute. In v-fib or ventricular fibrillation, no aspect of the heart is beating in a coordinated fashion and the person can die if it is a rhythm that persists.

Causes of low heartbeat include a sick sinus syndrome in which the sinus node beats at too low of a level. A conduction block within the electrical system can result in the rhythm not getting propagated; the rhythm gets too slow.

Risk factors for heart arrhythmias include being of an older age, having a genetic predisposition, having previous heart surgery, having coronary artery disease, having thyroid disease and being on certain supplements. Obesity, illicit drugs, hypertension, sleep apnea and electrolyte imbalance can contribute to your having an arrhythmia. Even caffeine and nicotine can cause arrhythmias.

Doctors can easily define a heart rhythm with an EKG or ECG machine that can detect very specific changes in the heart rhythm. If the arrhythmia is intermittent, doctors can use a Holter monitor which detects what the heart is doing over a period of time. An event recorder records any event that is occurring only sporadically. An echocardiogram can help with determining what is happening to the valves of the heart and with the outflow of the heart with or without a rhythm disturbance.

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The author of the substantive medical writing on this website is Dr. Christine Traxler MD whose biography can be read here