Your heart produces electrical signals that determine the rhythm of your heartbeat. When those signals are disorganized, your heartbeat might speed up or become irregular (arrhythmic). An arrhythmia can cause your heart to pump in an irregular way, leading to a range of symptoms, including physical weakness, shortness of breath, and heart palpitations.
In most cases, heart rhythm disorders are not life-threatening. However, if not properly treated, they can contribute to blood clots, heart failure, or strokes. Speak to a Bayhealth heart and vascular expert about symptoms related to cardiac arrhythmia.
How We Diagnose Heart Rhythm Disorders
Your physician may use one or more of the following procedures to diagnose arrhythmia.
- Electrocardiogram (EKG): Electrical pulses generated by your heart are measured and evaluated to determine if any abnormalities or unusual conditions are present.
- Echocardiogram: Sound waves are directed to your heart through a device held up to your chest. This creates a pattern that allows your physician to determine if the valves and other parts of your heart are operating properly.
- Ultrasound: Doppler ultrasound uses sound waves to create images of the heart and blood vessels.
- Holter monitoring: A small device that must be worn over the chest, the Holter monitor records your heart’s electrical activity for a period of 24 hours or more.
- Stress test: This test compares cardiac function during exercise and a period of rest.
- Transesophageal echocardiogram (TEE): Performed after an imaging tube is passed through your throat and esophagus, this procedure provides the most accurate view of your heart.
- Tilt table test: Your blood pressure and heart rate are measured during changes of posture while you are lying on an adjustable table.
- Electrophysiology study: Narrow tubes (catheters) are inserted into your heart through your veins in order to measure and record electrical signals and abnormal rhythms.
- Implantable loop recorder: A device is surgically inserted under the skin (in the chest area) to record abnormal rhythms for an extended period of time.
Treatment Options and Procedures
The following treatments and procedures may be used to address cardiac arrhythmia.
- Cardioversion: This procedure uses low-energy electrical shocks to return your heart to a normal rhythm.
- Catheter ablation: A narrow tube (catheter) is guided to your heart, where it either uses radiofrequency energy or a refrigerant-filled balloon to disable unwanted electrical signals contributing to arrhythmia. Learn more about catheter ablation.
- Implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD): A small device is implanted in your chest, where it detects arrhythmias and delivers electrical shocks that restore your heart to a normal rhythm.
- Watchman device: A small device is implanted in the left atrial appendage (LAA) of the heart, which limits the need for blood thinners among patients with atrial fibrillation (A-Fib). Learn more about the Watchman device.
- Pacemaker: This device, implanted in your chest, is designed to deliver electrical impulses whenever your heartbeat slows to an unacceptable level.
- Maze procedure: A surgeon makes a series of incisions throughout the upper chambers of your heart, altering the electrical signals that contribute to arrhythmia.