Understanding Abnormal Heartbeat

A normal, healthy heart beats about 60 to 100 times per minute in a fairly regular pattern. A heartbeat is considered abnormal if it’s too fast, too slow or beats irregularly. An abnormal heartbeat doesn’t necessarily mean that a person has heart disease.

That’s because abnormal heartbeats can be caused by:

  • alcohol,
  • caffeine,
  • tobacco,
  • certain medications
  • and even stress.

Many people don’t realize that the heart has its own built-in pacemaker, which controls the electrical impulses that make a person’s heart contract, or beat. The reason the heart seems to produce a double beat is that there are really two contractions-one in the upper chambers, which beat first, and one in the lower chambers, which beat an instant later.

If a person’s heart beats very fast for a few seconds, this is called tachycardia. These rapid heartbeats are usually the result of an extra electrical impulse that somehow skips the pacemaker stage, throwing off the heart’s normal rhythm.

Another type of abnormal heartbeat occurs when one of the chambers of the heart suddenly starts contracting rapidly in an almost chaotic way. This disorder, called fibrillation, is usually harmless in the upper part of the heart, but it is dangerous in the lower heart because it produces cardiac arrest, which can lead to death if the person is not revived within three to four minutes.

An interruption of the electrical system of the heart can also cause what’s known as “a heart block” which tends to cause a very slow heart rate and dizziness or even unconsciousness. Some people may not even be aware that they have an abnormal heartbeat and only learn about it after a routine medical examination.

If you ever notice a skipped beat or a rapid succession of irregular beats, see your healthcare provider immediately to determine the cause and the appropriate treatment.

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