If you are experiencing a medical emergency please dial 911 immediately
An abnormal heartbeat (arrhythmia) is any variation in the normal heartbeat. Abnormal heartbeats occur when the heart has an irregular heart rhythm, beats too fast (tachycardia), or beats too slow (bradycardia).
The electrical system of the heart creates signals that trigger the heart to pump. These electrical signals control the heart rate and rhythm. Normally, the heart beats in a regular rhythm and at a rate that is appropriate for the work the body is doing. An arrhythmia results from a problem in the electrical system of the heart. Things that can cause the heart to beat abnormally include heavy smoking, alcohol use, excess caffeine or other stimulants, stress, thyroid disease, and fever.
Many arrhythmias are minor, causing only occasional abnormal heartbeats and requiring no treatment. If an arrhythmia needs treatment, options may include medicines, an electrical shock (cardioversion), a cardiac device such as a pacemaker, or ablation.
Last Revised: June 12, 2013
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review: E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine & Rakesh K. Pai, MD, FACC - Cardiology, Electrophysiology
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