Your heart is, arguably, the hardest-working muscle in your body — it beats 60-100 times per minute, 100,000-110,000 times in one day, and about 35 million times per year. Under ideal circumstances, these heartbeats keep a steady rhythm to deliver oxygenated blood to your body.
For up to 5% of the general population who have an arrhythmia, there’s an irregularity in the heart’s rhythm, but some people may not be aware of the potentially serious issue.
To help you identify whether you might be dealing with an arrhythmia, board-certified cardiologist Dr. James Kim provides some key pieces of information about this common cardiovascular issue below.
Arrhythmias — different types of the same problem
The first point we want to make about arrhythmias is that there are different types that can make your heart beat too fast, too slow, or erratically.
The most common arrhythmia is atrial fibrillation (Afib), which will affect more than 12 million people in the United States by 2030. With Afib, the upper chambers of your heart quiver instead of beat firmly, which can allow blood to pool in these chambers and, more dangerously, let clots form.
Outside of Afib, other arrhythmias include:
- Atrial flutter — the upper chambers beat irregularly
- Paroxysmal supraventricular tachycardia — brief episodes of extra heartbeats
- Ventricular tachycardia — the lower chambers beat too quickly
- Ventricular fibrillation — the lower chambers quiver instead of pump blood out
This last type of arrhythmia — ventricular fibrillation — is an emergency and often leads to heart attack within minutes.
Symptoms of an arrhythmia
In many cases, ongoing irregular heartbeats do makes themselves known in the form of heart palpitations that can make it feel like your heart is:
These symptoms can come and go, or you may feel them with some regularity. You might also feel faint if your heart rhythm is too slow or, on the opposite end, you might feel incredibly anxious if your heart rate is high.
All too often, however, people with arrhythmias are unaware of the issue because the symptoms aren’t strong enough or the arrhythmia occurs only briefly and/or sporadically.
For example, about 1 in 3 people with Afib don’t know they have the condition. There are many possible reasons behind this lack of awareness, such as weak symptoms or symptoms that are more general and easily confused with other health issues, such as fatigue.
We also alluded to arrhythmias that are very brief, such as paroxysmal supraventricular tachycardia, which typically occurs in young people during exercise and isn’t particularly dangerous.
So, to answer our original question, whether you can have an arrhythmia and not know it, the answer is a resounding yes.
The best way to find out whether your heart is keeping a steady rhythm is to come see us for a comprehensive cardiovascular evaluation.
To get started, we invite you to contact us at one of our offices in Chula Vista or National City, California, to schedule an appointment.