Arrhythmia is a heart rhythm disorder. In the case of arrhythmia, instead of beating 60 to 80 times per minute in a regular manner, the heart's beat may changed, the rate between its contractions becoming irregular. The major types of arrhythmias are: extrasystole, atrial or ventricular, with a heartbeat that occurs way too early, fibrillation, atrial or ventricular, with a rapid and disorderly contraction of the heart and atrial flutter.
Cardiac arrhythmia does not systematically come with symptoms. This is the case of extrasystoles, which aren't generally responsible for any symptoms except palpitations, or the sensation of a "jump" of the heart. These extrasystoles don't typically have any impact on the patient's life. Similarly, atrial fibrillation often goes unnoticed unless seen on an electrocardiogram or is discovered as the result of a complication of an arrhythmia. Ventricular fibrillation is itself responsible for acute symptoms, as a patient loses consciousness immediately and may die in the absence of prompt treatment.
To diagnose arrhythmia, the doctor will look at the symptoms described by the patient and take note of his family history and his daily habits.
Some specific tests are used to make the diagnosis: the electrocardiogram (ECG) studies the heartbeat, the Holter ECG uses electrodes to record heartbeats over a period of 24 hours, the stress test that consists in the use of an ECG during exercise, or lastly echocardiography.
The treatment of cardiac arrhythmias depends on the type of arrhythmia detected.
In the case of an extrasystole, a benign pathology without any impact on the life of the individual, no treatment is necessary.
In the case of ventricular fibrillation, which is an emergency, the risk of death is elevated in the absence of the issuing of an external electric shock produced by a rescue team.
As to atrial fibrillation, the treatment will involve the use of drugs to prevent blood clotting, the main complication of this arrhythmia being embolism. The question also arises at this level of whether the pace of the atrial contractions (of the two upper chambers of the heart) must be slowed or reduced by electrical cardioversion or medication (refer to the document on cardiac atrial fibrillation).
Cardiac arrhythmias are cannot be prevented. However, a patient should follow the instructions usually recommended in the prevention of cardiovascular diseases, namely to quit smoking, to fight against obesity, to care for diabetes or hypertension, to follow strict dietary rules and to perform sufficient physical activity.