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Cardiac Arrhythmia – facts, myths and other burning questions

Cardiac Arrhythmia – facts, myths and other burning questions

Cardiac Arrhythmia – facts, myths and other burning questions

 What is cardiac arrhythmia?

This is the medical term used to describe problems with the heart beat or heart rhythm. There is a complex network of electrical circuits/wires within our hearts which are responsible for controlling our heart beat. Cardiac arrhythmia is caused by abnormal electrical activity of these wires and depending on the type of arrhythmia, it can result in abnormally fast, irregular, or slow heartbeat.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms can range from having sensation of the heart beating rapidly e.g palpitations, shortness of breath, chest pain, dizziness or even fainting.

 

Can it kill?

Although many forms of cardiac arrhythmia are benign, there are certain types of arrhythmia which are potentially life threatening and may cause sudden death. It is therefore important to get assessed to determine the exact problem.

I think I have cardiac arrhythmia, is it because I have blocked arteries?

Most cases of cardiac arrhythmia are not directly caused by or related to blockage of coronary arteries, although it is possible to find both problems co-existing in the same patient.

Is it because I did something wrong to cause the cardiac arrhythmia?

In most cases, there are usually no specific provocation factors or triggers although some people may describe symptoms after a specific activity or exercise.

I think I have palpitations, should I avoid coffee?

The symptoms associated with caffeine containing products such as coffee are highly subjective and may not necessarily affect every individual the same way. Clinical studies comparing people who have high coffee intake with normal intake have not conclusively shown any significant effect on cardiac arrhythmia. Therefore, it can simply be left to the individual to decide if they wish to avoid or reduce coffee intake, depending on how sensitive they are to it.

What can happen if nothing is done about it?

This depends on the type of cardiac arrhythmia. In most cases, patients will continue to intermittently experience symptoms if left untreated, although some may not notice any symptoms after a while. There is also a small chance that the overall cardiac function may become affected in the long term if the arrhythmia happens frequently enough. As mentioned above, many cases are benign but in some selected cases, there may be an associated risk of sudden death.

What treatment options do I have?

This again depends on the type of cardiac arrhythmia. If the diagnosis is due to an abnormally fast heartbeat, options of taking medication or undergoing an Electrophysiology study and Ablation procedure may be considered. If the problem is due to an abnormally slow heartbeat, then a permanent pacemaker implant may be required.

What does a pacemaker do? Is it a big operation?                   

A pacemaker is a battery unit that is implanted into the chest to control the heart beat when it goes too slow. This usually involves only a minor procedure done under local anaesthesia.

What is Electrophysiology study and Ablation? Is it a big operation?

This is a keyhole procedure that involves putting catheters into a blood vessel in the leg which will then give the doctor access to the heart. The abnormal electrical circuit that is responsible for causing palpitations can be identified by carrying out the Electrophysiology study and Ablation can then be performed at the same time to inactivate and eliminate it. The entire procedure is usually done under local anaesthesia and most patients can be discharged by the following day.

What type of treatment do I need?

Each patient is different and not all cardiac arrhythmias are treated the same way. Patients are advised to consult an Electrophysiologist to determine the most suitable treatment option for them.