Types of Arrhythmia

Atrial fibrillation (A-Fib)

Atrial fibrillation affects more than 2.2 million Americans, a number that continues to increase as the population ages. A-Fib is an irregular heart rhythm that affects the upper chambers of your heart. A-Fib occurs when the electrical impulses in the upper chambers of the heart (atria) fire chaotically and sometimes rapidly. This disorganized rhythm prevents the atria and ventricles from beating in a coordinated fashion. Instead of contracting and pumping blood into the ventricles, the atria passively moves blood, unable to fully empty each chamber completely. Blood that is not moving out of the atria and through the heart can pool and form clots. These clots may travel throughout the body increasing your risk of stroke. A-Fib symptoms include heart palpitations, shortness of breath and weakness.

Episodes of A-Fib can come and go, or you may have chronic A-Fib. Although A-Fib itself usually isn't life-threatening, it is a serious medical condition that sometimes requires emergency treatment. If left untreated A-Fib can lead to blood clots, stroke, heart attack, heart failure, chronic fatigue and even death.

Treatments for A-Fib may include lifestyle modifications, medications and other interventions like catheter and/or surgical ablation to try to alter the heart's electrical system.

Atrial flutter

This is an arrhythmia caused by one or more rapid circuits in the atrium. Atrial flutter is usually more organized and regular than A-Fib. This arrhythmia occurs most often in people with heart disease and can occur in the first week after heart surgery. It often converts to A-Fib.


These are slow heart rhythms, which may arise form disease in the heart’s electrical conductions system. Examples include sinus node dysfunction and heart block.

Heart block

In heart block, electrical impulses may be slowed or blocked in or near the atrioventricular node (AV node), the electrical connection between the atria and lower heart chambers (ventricles).

Long QT syndrome

The QT interval is the area on the electrocardiogram that represents the time it takes for the heart muscle to contract and then recover, or for the electrical impulse to fire impulses and then recharge. When the QT interval is longer than normal, it increases the risk of a life-threatening form of ventricular tachycardia. Long QT syndrome is an inherited condition that can cause sudden death in young people. It can be treated with antiarrhytmic drugs, pacemaker, electrical cardioversion, defibrillation, implanted cardioverter/defibrillator or ablation therapy.

Premature atrial contractions

These are early extra beats that originate in the atria (upper chambers of the heart). They are harmless and generally do not require treatment.

Premature ventricular contractions (PVCs)

These are among the most common arrhythmias and occur in people with or without heart disease. This is the skipped heartbeat we all occasionally experience. In some people, it can be related to stress, too much caffeine or nicotine, or too much exercise. But sometimes, PVCs can be caused by heart disease or electrolyte imbalance. People who have a lot of PVCs, and/or symptoms associated with them, should be evaluated by a heart doctor. However, in most people, PVCs are usually harmless and rarely need treatment.

Sinus node dysfunction

A slow heart rhythm due to an abnormal sinus node. Significant sinus node dysfunction that causes symptoms is treated with a pacemaker.

Tachycardia - paroxysmal supraventricular (PSVT)

A rapid heart rate, usually with a regular rhythm, originating from above the ventricles. PSVT begins and ends suddenly. There are two main types: accessory path tachycardias and AV nodal reentrant tachycardias (see below).

Tachycardia - accessory pathway

A rapid heart rate due to an extra abnormal pathway or connection between the atria and the ventricles. The impulses travel through the extra pathways as well as through the usual route. This allows the impulses to travel around the heart very quickly, causing the heart to beat unusually fast.

Tachycardia - AV nodal reentrant

A rapid heart rate due to more than one pathway through the AV node. It can cause heart palpitations, fainting, or heart failure. In some cases, it can be terminated using simple maneuvers, such as breathing in and bearing down. Some drugs can also stop this heart rhythm.

Tachycardia - ventricular (V-tach)

A rapid heart rhythm originating from the lower chambers (or ventricles) of the heart. The rapid rate prevents the heart from filling adequately with blood. This can be a serious arrhythmia, especially in people with heart disease, and may be associated with more symptoms.

Ventricular fibrillation

An erratic, disorganized firing of impulses from the ventricles. The ventricles quiver and are unable to contract or pump blood to the body. This is a medical emergency that must be treated with cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and defibrillation as soon as possible.

Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome

In Wolff-Parkinson-White, an extra electrical pathway in your heart may intermittently cause a fast heart rhythm.

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