Cardiac arrhythmias: what are they and how can we detect them? - medical - 2023



Cardiovascular diseases, that is, all those disorders of the heart and blood vessels, are the leading cause of death worldwide. Above cancer, traffic accidents, respiratory tract infections ... Heart disease is the main reason why people die.

In fact, these cardiovascular disorders are responsible for more than 32% of the deaths registered in the world. Our heart is susceptible to different diseases, although one of the most common conditions is arrhythmias.

In this article we will talk about cardiac arrhythmias, a disorder characterized by an alteration in the frequency of the heartbeat, something that can lead to severe heart failure. Fortunately, there are ways to prevent and detect this condition early, something that reduces its impact.

What is a cardiac arrhythmia?

A cardiac arrhythmia is a cardiovascular disorder that consists of an alteration of the heartbeat rate. That is, the heart rate is affected, causing the heart to beat too fast (tachycardia), too slow (bradycardia), or irregularly.

Cardiac arrhythmias are not always serious, as they can be limited to a slight unpleasant sensation in the chest, although some of them cause serious symptoms and even death. However, there are ways to prevent the development of these conditions by adopting a healthy lifestyle and there are also treatments that return the heart to its normal beat.

Our heart is a kind of pump in charge of delivering blood to all parts of the body. But to be able to do it properly and ensure both that the nutrients reach the cells and that the waste substances are eliminated from the body, it must work in a perfectly synchronized way.

The heartbeat is the indicator that our heart is pumping blood at the right moment, something that is achieved through a series of electrical impulses that occur in the muscle tissue of the heart and that cause it to contract and relax. correctly.

Cardiac arrhythmias, then, are alterations in the heart rate that occur when these electrical impulses are not transmitted properly, which causes the heart not to contract and relax as it should.


There are many circumstances that can lead to a dysregulated heartbeat. Anyway, the causes that most often explain that electrical impulses are not conducted as they should are the following:

  • Having suffered a heart attack
  • High blood pressure
  • Congenital heart disease
  • Abnormal potassium levels (very important for the proper transmission of electrical impulses)
  • Enlargement of the heart
  • Hyperthyroidism
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Blockage of heart arteries
  • Smoking
  • Alcoholism
  • Drugs abuse
  • Excessive consumption of caffeine
  • Stress
  • Overuse of certain medications (especially those used to treat allergies, colds, depression, psychosis, and even other heart conditions) and nutritional supplements
  • Diabetes
  • Obstructive sleep apnea (stoppage of breathing while sleeping)

Therefore, while it is true that some of the causes are unavoidable, most of them are easily preventable by taking care of your lifestyle. Adopting healthy habits can greatly reduce the possibility of developing cardiac arrhythmias.


Usually an arrhythmia has no clinical manifestations, so it is common to detect them simply during a routine examination. Therefore, the most common symptoms of cardiac arrhythmias tend not to be serious and are as follows:

  • Palpitations in the chest (if you have tachycardia)
  • Feeling that the heart is beating slowly (if you have bradycardia)
  • Agitation in the chest
  • Chest pain
  • Pallor
  • Sweating
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Dizziness and dizziness
  • Fainting

In any case, if the heartbeat mismatch is severe and / or the arrhythmia is not treated in time, it is possible that more serious symptoms such as the ones we will see below may appear.


As we said, most arrhythmias need not be serious or life-threatening. However, some of them can lead to some more serious cardiovascular diseases and disorders. The most common complications are:

Development of heart failure

When, due to both severe tachycardia and bradycardia, the heart cannot pump blood properly, it is possible to develop heart failure, a chronic disorder that will require lifelong treatment.

This heart failure occurs when, after continued heart rhythm disturbance, the heart is no longer able to deliver blood throughout the body. This is accompanied by different symptoms, in addition to those mentioned above and pertaining to the arrhythmia itself, which are the following:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Weakness and fatigue
  • Unwanted weight gain
  • Swelling of the abdomen
  • Lack of appetite
  • Sickness
  • Swelling in extremities

If this heart failure appears, the prognosis will depend on the severity of the same and the state of health of the person, although some of the complications derived from the inability of the heart to supply blood to the body can be fatal: kidney failure, heart valve damage, liver damage ...

Have a stroke

This alteration in the heart rhythm causes, as we have seen, that the blood is not pumped efficiently. This lack of impulse strength can cause blood to pool, which in turn, if the arrhythmia is severe, leads to blood clots.

The formation of these clots puts the person's life at risk, because if they are released from the heart and pass into the bloodstream, it is possible that they reach the brain. Once there, depending on the nature of the clot, blood flow can be blocked, preventing oxygen from reaching the brain and causing a stroke.

This cerebral infarction is a cerebrovascular accident in which, due to lack of oxygenation and arrival of nutrients, part of the brain tissue begins to "die". This causes permanent damage and even, if the clot has affected a very large region, death.

Thus, people with cardiac arrhythmias should take blood thinners, as they prevent these blood clots from forming. Hence the importance of early detection of arrhythmias.


Although they are sometimes caused by genetic or inheritable factors that we cannot control or by suffering from non-preventable diseases, the truth is that most cases of cardiac arrhythmias are preventable.

By leading a healthy lifestyle, we keep our hearts in good health and we greatly reduce the risk of these heart rhythm disturbances. A "heart healthy" life includes:

  • Take care of your diet: avoid ultra-processed, refined fats and sugars and focus your diet on vegetables, fruits and more natural foods.
  • Perform physical activity: with sport we exercise the heart and keep it active, reducing the possibility of developing problems
  • Limit alcohol and caffeine intake
  • No Smoking
  • Avoid being overweight
  • Try to reduce stress
  • Do not take medicines “just because”: some apparently harmless drugs that are obtained without the need for a prescription (anti-flu, for allergies, for colds, etc.) can increase the risk of suffering arrhythmias if they are consumed excessively

Following these indications greatly reduces the probability of developing cardiac arrhythmias and, consequently, of suffering from serious health complications derived from them.


As we have said, as many of them do not present symptoms or clinical manifestations, they are usually detected by a doctor during a routine examination. During the visit, the doctor, by procedure, will take the pulse and, using a stethoscope, will listen to the heart. With this routine test, you may suspect that the person has an arrhythmia, as you will notice alterations in the heart rhythm.

Once you suspect it, you must confirm it through different tests. First, it will be necessary to observe if there really is a cardiac arrhythmia. Second, the cause will be determined. In addition, other detection techniques can be done so that the diagnosis is as accurate as possible.

First test: electrocardiogram

The electrocardiogram is the quintessential arrhythmia detection test. It consists of the use of electrodes (which act as sensors) attached to the chest and which analyze the electrical activity of the heart.

With an electrocardiogram, information is obtained on the duration of each of the phases of a heart beat, so it can be determined if it beats too fast, fast or irregularly. Therefore, a cardiac arrhythmia is detected by this diagnostic technique.

Second test: heart monitoring

Once the presence of a cardiac arrhythmia is confirmed, doctors must determine the cause of it. Therefore, they will use different techniques that are focused on finding the underlying disorder that explains the development of this heart disorder.

Holter monitoring consists of a device that records the activity of the person's heart for 24 hours. The implantable recorder is a device that the person, when they notice that their heart rate is more altered than normal, activates and it begins to monitor cardiac activity.

With these diagnostic tests, it is possible to determine what is the cause that has led to the development of an arrhythmia in order to be able to administer treatments accordingly.

Supplementary tests

An echocardiogram can also be performed, a diagnostic imaging technique that allows images of the heart to be obtained, observing both its size and structure and the movements it performs.

The implantable loop recorder is implanted under the skin of the chest region and can detect abnormal heart rhythms.

Treatment of cardiac arrhythmias

Treatments are usually only given if the symptoms of the arrhythmia are severe and / or there is a risk that the arrhythmia could lead to one of the complications mentioned above.

The most common treatments to resolve cardiac arrhythmias are: implantation of a pacemaker (a device that helps regulate the heart rate), medications by mouth or by vein (only for tachycardia, as there are no medications that safely accelerate the heart in case of bradycardia), electric shocks (the electric current can restore normal heart rhythm), in addition to surgical treatments in case the arrhythmia is due to an affectation of the arteries of the heart.

Therefore, Although there are effective treatments, these are only administered in cases of severe arrhythmia And, considering that most of them are preventable, it is not necessary to get to the point of needing these therapies.

Bibliographic references

  • Humprhreys, M., Warlow, C., McGowan, J. (2013) “Arrhythmias and their Management”. Nursing the Cardiac Patient.
  • Amani, R., Sharifi, N. (2012) "Cardiovascular Disease Risk Factors". The Cardiovascular System - Physiology, Diagnostics and Clinical Implications.
  • Arnar, D.O., Mairessem G.H., Boriani, G. et al (2019) “Management of asymptomatic arrhythmias”. European Society of Cardiology.