Irregular heart rhythms are common and may be caused by stress,
fatigue, or overuse of alcohol or stimulants, such as caffeine or nicotine.
Home treatment is usually all that is needed to relieve minor rhythm
Exercise can also cause an irregular heart rhythm, but the rhythm
usually returns to normal within minutes after the exercise stops. An irregular
rhythm with shortness of breath that continues for an extended period of time
after physical activity may be a sign of a more serious problem. If you have
palpitations, an irregular heart rhythm,
lightheadedness, or fainting brought on by exercise,
call your doctor for an evaluation.
Other changes in heart rhythm can be more serious. Atrial
fibrillation is the most common type of irregular heart rhythm. It causes the
heart's upper chambers to beat irregularly, reducing blood flow to the heart
muscle and to the rest of the body. Atrial fibrillation increases your chance
of having a
stroke or a blood clot in the lungs (pulmonary embolism).
Irregular rhythms in the lower heart chambers (ventricular
arrhythmias) are the most life-threatening irregular heart rhythms. They
usually cause fainting (syncope) within seconds, and you may
symptoms of a heart attack. Emergency medical
treatment is needed, such as medications and electrical shock
If you have heart disease, heart failure, or have had a heart attack,
it is especially important to understand how serious an irregular heart rhythm
can be. This is especially true if it occurs with shortness of breath when you
are resting or after mild exertion. Call your doctor if you have a sudden
change in your usual heart rate or rhythm.
Jan Nissl, RN, BS
Susan Van Houten, RN, BSN, MBA
Primary Medical Reviewer
William M. Green, MD - Emergency Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer
H. Michael O'Connor, MD - Emergency Medicine
April 27, 2007
WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise
April 27, 2007
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor.
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