Like any other muscle in our body, the heart needs to be taken care of. Before exercise we stretch and lossen up our muscles to prevent injury to them and although the precuationary measures we take for our heart are different, they are still important. To lower one’s risk of heart disease one should make sure to have low cholesterol and blood pressure, moderate amounts of physical activity, and one should refrain from smoking tobacco or drinking excessively.
Why? Well the heart works like a pump, and is divided into four chambers : two atria at the top of the heart and two ventricles at the bottom. The heart beats (contracts) when an electrical impulse from our heart’s “natural pacemaker”, the sinoatrial, moves through it. But what happens if there is a glitch in the heart’s complicated “wiring” system causing it to “misfire”? The result can be an abnormal heart rhythm; officially this is called an arrhythmia.
In general the term arrhythmia refers to any deviation or disturbance from the heart’s normal sequences, which then cause abnormal heart rhythms. This can cause the heart to pump less effectively; but an arrhythmia is not always a cause for concern because an arrythmia can occur in a healthy heart and be of minimal consequence. However, arrhythmias may indicate a serious problem and lead to heart disease, stroke or sudden cardiac arrest. The consequence of an arrhythmia depends primarily on the structural condition of the heart and the presence of heart disease.
Most heart rhythm disturbances should not be a huge cause for concern. A racing heart after an exciting movie, or a frighteneing experience does not mean you should run to the doctors office. Exercise, caffiene, and medication can also speed up your heart rate. This is not dangerous, an arrhythmia, irregular heart beat, might need to be looked at by a doctor if it becomes frequent or chronic. One should also remember that the seriousness of an arrythmia depends not just on symptoms, like faintness or dizziness, but has more to do with the presence of important abnormal structural conditions of the heart and/or heart disease.
There are two types of arrhythmia one can suffer from. These two types are: atrial fibrillation, and ventricular fibrillation. Atrial fibrillation is when your heart beats rapidly causing symptoms such as palpitations, rapid heart beat, chest discomfort, shortness of breath and dizziness. Ventricular fibrillation is an arrhythmia that originates in the ventricles or pumping chambers and usually occurs in people who have a damaged heart, frequently the result of a heart attack. Because ventricular fibrillation is so rapid and is occurring in a damaged heart, the heart may not function properly or efficiently and this arrhythmia can be fatal.
To help with arrythmia preventative medication can be taken such as beta blockers or drugs that reduce blood clots. Pacemakers may also be used and these monitor and regulate heart beat. Before resorting to medication however, preventative lifestyle changes can also be made such as exercise, limited intake of alcohol, and a diet rich in fruits and vegetables.
If one feels they suffer from arrythmia, a doctor should be seen. Since it is hard for the average person to know if their arrhythmia is dangerous, cardiology specialists called electrophysiologists use the most advanced technology to detect, diagnose and treat arrhythmias. Arrhythmias that cannot be treated and controlled by medication, or by pacemakers can often be completely cured through a minimally invasive procedure called cardiac ablation.