An abnormal heartbeat is a situation when there’s a problem with the electrical current that controls your heartbeat. Your heart may beat too slow, too fast, skip a beat, add an extra beat, or flutter (beat without pumping blood). If this is not treated early, it may be life-threatening. Ensure you see a healthcare provider immediately if you have any of these symptoms.
Many people with an abnormal heartbeat have no symptoms. However, some people may feel any of the following:
- Unusual heartbeats that are described as
- too slow,
- too fast,
- missing a beat, or
- adding a beat.
- Difficulty breathing. Or feel out of breath just walking a short distance.
- Chest pain.
- Feeling or hearing your heartbeat at rest.
- Anxiety or fear.
- Unusual heartbeats that are described as
Some disease conditions can lead to, or cause, an abnormal heartbeat (slow or fast). They include:
- If you are having or have had a heart attack recently.
- If you have heart disease, blocked arteries in your heart, or high blood pressure.
- Having an overactive or underactive thyroid gland.
- Having uncontrolled blood sugar.
- If you wake up from sleep unable to breathe.
- If you have had a COVID-19 infection.
- If you use hard drugs like cocaine or misuse prescription drugs like painkillers.
You are at an increased risk of an abnormal heartbeat if you have:
- An existing disease of the heart. A disease of the arteries supplying blood to the heart, high blood pressure, and disease of the heart muscles are likely causes.
- Your breathing often gets interrupted during sleep. You may be at high risk of heart diseases, including abnormal heartbeats.
- Disturbance of the heart’s electrical system by too few or too many electrolytes carrying electrical signals.
- Thyroid disease patients may also be at risk.
Seek urgent medical care if you experience one or more of the symptoms that point to an abnormal heartbeat (listed above).
When the heart beats with rapid contractions and cannot pump blood to the body, the patient may slump and not have signs of a heartbeat anymore. This is an emergency.
You must either get an ambulance to move the patient to a health center or get emergency care immediately to the person. In some areas, there may be an automated external defibrillator available (AED) available. Instructions in the AED box will direct you to check for a pulse, do chest compressions while getting help for the person.
In order to reduce the likelihood of a case of an abnormal heartbeat, you need to make heart-healthy choices. Keep your heart healthy by following the self-care routines recommended here.
It would be best if you did not treat arrhythmias at home; however, the following tips can help reduce the frequency of symptoms or reduce your risk of having cardiac arrhythmias:
- Eating healthy meals. Mainly fruits, leafy green vegetables, oily fish and plant proteins.
- Increase physical activity by exercising regularly and maintain a healthy weight. This will strengthen your heart.
- Quitting smoking. Your healthcare provider can help you quit safely.
- Avoiding alcohol misuse and drug abuse.
The focus of treatment in a case of an abnormal heartbeat is to restore the heart to its normal rate. Your healthcare provider may recommend one or more of the following:
- Drugs to correct the abnormal rhythm of the heart. Including some high blood pressure medicines and others that work differently.
- In people with life-threatening abnormal heartbeats or where the beats are too slow, your healthcare provider may put a device (pacemaker) in your heart to correct abnormal beats when they happen. The procedure is expensive and not generally available in Nigeria.
- If your heartbeat is fast, you may be taught to stop some types using the nerves that control your heartbeat. For others, medicines and electric shock is usually helpful.
- Surgery may also be useful in patients whose blood vessels supplying the heart may be diseased.
In addition to your healthcare provider’s care, you may be asked to visit a specialist center for adequate care.
In the management of an abnormal heartbeat, it is important to collaborate with your healthcare provider. Together, you can prevent heart injury or other complications. And when any injury happens, your healthcare provider will be able to support you to get back to health as quickly as possible.