Have you ever felt like your heart is beating so fast that you cannot breathe? Have you ever felt so giddy that you feel like fainting? If yes – you should have it checked out. You could be having a condition called cardiac arrhythmia.
What is cardiac arrhythmia?
It just means that you have irregular heartbeat. A normal heart beats on regular timings. It goes slow at rest or when you are relaxed. It goes faster when you exert yourself either during exercise or other strenuous activity. It also goes faster when you feel excited, anxious or scared. The heart rhythm is controlled by a complex regulating system that comprised of neurons and hormonal activity.
Sometimes, in certain people – this system can be faulty causing their heart to beat irregularly. The most common cardiac arrhythmia is called atrial fibrillation (AF).
What happens if you have atrial fibrillation (AF)?
When you have AF, your heart contracts ineffectively. This may cause blood to clot inside the heart and the blood clots can travel to the brain causing stroke. That is why if you have AF, your doctor may advice you to start on blood thinning drugs. This drug works to prevent clots from forming inside your heart.
Why does AF happen?
AF commonly happens when you have cardiac conditions like ischemic heart disease and chronic hypertension. Elevated levels of thyroid hormone, chronic excessive alcohol consumption and certain drugs can also cause heart beat irregularities. However, in majority of people living with AF – no cause was found.
What is treatment for AF?
There are a few ways to control AF. Doctors may try to restore normal cardiac rhythm by using medication or using electrical current. At the same time, you will be offered blood thinning medication as well.
Other than atrial fibrillation, what are the other heart rhythm abnormalities?
Your heart may beat too fast or too slow. Because of this you – may end up feeling giddy, having palpitations or fainting episodes. If you have any of these symptoms – you should consult a doctor.
What will the doctor do?
They will ask you about your symptoms and examine your body for abnormal signs. Then, they will do investigations which may include blood investigations or recording your heart rhythm using a machine called electrocardiogram (ECG). Depending on your clinical examination and investigation – occasionally you might need to do further cardiac investigation like 24 hour cardiac rhythm recording (Holter monitoring) or an Echocardiogram (an ultrasound imaging procedure which would look for abnormalities of your heart structure).
Can I continue with my normal activities?
Depending on your condition, most of the time – you can continue with your normal daily activities as long as you adhere to your doctor’s advice and remember to take your medications.
Dr. Nur Hidayati is in training to be an internal medicine specialist with special interest in infectious disease and nephrology. She is a permanent columnist for the Malaysian Medical Gazette. Learn more about her on The Team page