Dysrhythmia refers to an irregular heartbeat. Although, most dysrhythmias are harmless, a few can be fatal. Let us know more about such fatal dysrhythmias.
A human heart beats at the rate of 60 to 80 beats a minute. This makes for about 100,000 beats a day! During this time, it is very much possible for your heart to skip its routine and go a little haywire. However, this change in its pumping action is not significant and you will hardly ever feel it. Oftentimes, certain emotions or adrenaline rush may also bring about changes in the speed and pumping action of heart. Skipping a beat, fluttering are all common and harmless disruptions in a regular heartbeat. However, sometimes a medical condition named dysrhythmia may pose a serious risk for the heart function. Life-threatening dysrhythmias are often a precursor to cardiac arrest. Let us understand in detail about the various causes of dysrhythmias as well as treatment.
Causes of Life-Threatening Dysrhythmias
Dysrhythmias or arrhythmias are mostly caused due to an abnormal electrical activity in the heart. The electrical pulse may slow down the heart or make it pump faster leading to an irregular heartbeat. When heartbeat drops below 60 beats a minute, then the resulting condition is called bradycardia. Sometimes, the electrical activity may elevate the heartbeat up to 100 beats a minute or more. This condition is called tachycardia. Both bradycardia and tachycardia are comparatively safe, if the underlying causes are normal. For instance, after heavy exercise, the adrenaline rush may elevate heart rate substantially. However, these are benign causes of tachycardia.
As mentioned above, dysrhythmias are caused due to abnormal electrical activity. In normal circumstances, sino-atrial node (SV node) generates an electrical impulse which maintains a defined rhythm for beating of ventricles and atria. SV node acts as a natural pacemaker. Whenever it generates an electrical impulse, it gets dispersed over atria, causing the myocardial tissues to contract. The ventricles and atria are separated with an insulation, so that the electrical impulse does not disperse over ventricle and cause their contraction. This arrangement prevents simultaneous contraction of atria and ventricles. Another node named atrio-ventricular node controls the beating of ventricles. The electrical impulse from atria enters the ventricles through this node, via impulse-conducting system. Thus, ventricles, contract shorty after atria contract. Whenever, the electrical signal behaves abnormally, the result is abnormal contraction of heart or dysrythmia.
Amongst the various types of dysrhythmias, fibrillation is of most serious consequences. Fibrillation is a quivering or vibrating action of the heart. It can occur in atria or in ventricles, depending upon the area of abnormal electrical activity. Atrial fibrillation is usually not fatal, hence does not warrant a medical emergency. However, when ventricles suffer from fibrillation, heart is not capable of pumping the blood effectively. This is a serious medical emergency, that may cause a patient’s death within minutes if left untreated.
Treatment for Life-Threatening Dysrhythmias
Serious dysrhythmias need to be treated within minutes of occurrence. If there is a delay in treatment, patient may die of cardiac arrest. Dysrhythmias due to fibrillation can only be treated using a defibrillator. Defibrillation is a technique in which electrical shocks are given to heart to regularize the electrical activity in heart. Defibrillation resets the myocardial cells, so that a regular heartbeat is established.
Dysrhythmias of less serious consequence may not need any treatment. However, if you suffer from persistent dysrhythmias, then you may benefit from an artificial pacemaker. Besides, drugs, anticoagulants can prove to be of great use for treating minor dysrhythmias.
Any problem with heart function should be discussed with a physician on a priority basis. A regular cardiac exam may keep severe problems at bay. Remember, when an emergency involving heart occurs, you barely have a few minutes to act. Hence, it is best to avoid such circumstances by taking preventive measures.