Heart Arrhythmias

Types of Heart Arrhythmias

Arrhythmia refers to any kind of abnormal heart rhythm.

There are two types of arrhythmias: atrial arrhythmia, also called supraventricular arrhythmia, which begins in the upper chambers of the heart, and ventricular arrhythmia, which begins in the lower chambers of the heart. The most common arrhythmia is atrial fibrillation, or "afib", which affects more than 4 million Americans.

You can also have an irregular heart rate, as with tachycardia, when the heart beats too fast (see Ventricular Tachycardia or Supraventricular Tachycardia for more information about these specific types of tachycardia), or bradycardia, when the heart beats too slow. During an arrhythmia, the heart may not be able to pump enough blood to the body. Lack of blood flow can damage the brain, heart, and other organs.

Premature ventricular contractions (PVCs) are extra, abnormal heartbeats that begin in the ventricles, or lower pumping chambers, and disrupt your regular heart rhythm, sometimes causing you to feel a skipped beat or palpitations. PVCs are very common and usually harmless.

Not all abnormal heart rhythms are life threatening, but they should all be investigated so you receive proper treatment.

Treatments for Heart Arrhythmias

Many people can be treated by medication alone, and a number of treatments for arrhythmia are outpatient-based. There are a variety of treatment options, depending on the condition of the patient, including:

  • Drug therapy: These include blood thinners, beta-blockers and calcium channel blockers.
  • Implantable cardiac defibrillator (ICD): This is an implantable device that uses electrical pulses to help control abnormal heart rhythms.
  • Electrical cardioversion: Uses an external defibrillator to deliver an electric shock to the chest wall in order to restore a normal heart rhythm.
  • Pacemaker: An implanted device that delivers painless electric pulses that stimulate the heart to beat.
  • Catheter ablation: A minimally invasive catheter-based surgery intended to cure atrial fibrillation (afib), using radiofrequency energy to cauterize the “short circuits” that are generating the atrial fibrillation.
  • AV node ablation: a catheter-based procedure for patients with atrial fibrillation who cannot take medication or for whom medication doesn't work.

Ablations, Pacemakers and ICDs

All arrhythmias can potentially be treated with an ablation. Some may need an implantable device, such as a pacemaker or an implantable cardiac defibrillator. Sometimes a catheter-based ablation may be required, which is done through a small incision in the leg, allowing for a shorter recovery time and no chest incision. Our specialists perform approximately 1,000 catheter ablations each year and have conducted extensive studies that prove its long-term effectiveness.

An implantable cardiac defibrillator (ICD) is a small battery-powered electrical impulse generator, which is implanted in patients who are at risk of sudden cardiac death due to ventricular fibrillation and ventricular tachycardia. The device is programmed to detect cardiac arrhythmia and correct it by delivering a jolt of electricity. It also can be used as a pacemaker. Our team educates each patient on its function, what it’s supposed to do for you, and when it may not be functioning properly.

Read the Frequently Asked Questions for Implantable Cardiac Defibrillator.

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