Irregular heartbeat or arrhythmia is a medical condition where the heart beats too slow or too fast or at an irregular pace. Thus this condition can be further sub-divided into bradycardia or slow heartbeat, tachycardia or fast heartbeat, flutter or fibrillation which means irregular heartbeat and premature contraction or early heartbeat. Although most forms of arrhythmias are not serious, some serious forms can cause a person to become seriously ill and may result in the person suffering a cardiac arrest.
Irregular heartbeat occurs when there is an interruption to the electrical impulses that cause our hearts to contract. Some of the factors that may cause your heart to work incorrectly are: drinking too much alcohol, consuming too much coffee, hypertension, hyperthyroidism, drug overuse, diabetes, mental stress, smoking, some dietary or herbal treatments and also due to some structural changes in the heart.
However, short-term arrhythmia does not require any treatment and it normally goes away on its own. The treatment for arrhythmia depends on the whether a person is suffering from fast heartbeat or slow heartbeat or some other complication. Bradycardia, when occurring due to some underlying condition, requires treatment of the ultimate condition. Otherwise, a pacemaker needs to be implanted. Tachycardia can be treated with the help of vegal maneuvers, cardioversion, ablation therapy, medications, implantable cardioverter-defibrillator, ventricular aneurysm surgery, coronary bypass surgery and the maze procedure.
When a person is suffering from slow heartbeats and it is difficult to figure out the exact cause, doctors may recommend implanting a pacemaker to augment the slow heart beats. The pacemaker is basically a small device that is placed inside your body near the collarbone. The pacemaker works by sending electrical impulses to the inner heart and helps the organ to beat at a stable rate. The pacemaker has one or more electrode-tipped wires that run through the blood vessels and reach the heart.
There are a number of different ways to treat fast heartbeats or tachycardias. The treatment may include one or more methods. The methods include Vagal maneuvers- This procedure involves the use of particular maneuvers like holding breath and straining, coughing and by immersing your face in ice water. This helps to prevent arrhythmia that begins above the lower half of the heart by affecting the nervous system that controls the heartbeats. The result may be heart rate getting slower. It should however be kept in mind that this procedure does not work for all types of arrhythmias.
Medications may also be prescribed to treat tachycardia that can help to control heart beat or to restore normal heart rhythm. Doctors may recommend anti-arrhythmic medications or blood-thinning medications in case of atrial fibrillation. Atrial fibrillation is best treated with cardioversion. A shock is delivered to the heart in this procedure through paddles or patches placed on the chest. You can get a normal heart rhythm as the current delivered affects the electrical impulses in the heart. Another form of treatment is catheter ablation.
Treatment can also be done with implantable devices like a pacemaker, implantable cardioverter-defibrillator and even with the help of surgical treatments like the maze procedure and the coronary bypass surgery.
A person suffering from some or most of these symptoms are eligible for treatment: chest pain, shortness of breath, dizziness or lightheadedness, sweating and fainting or near fainting. The two main symptoms that may help a doctor to confidently diagnose a person to be suffering from arrhythmia are a racing heartbeat and a slow heartbeat. A person is eligible for treatment when a doctor has reviewed his/her symptoms and conducted a physical examination and diagnosed him/her to be suffering from such.
There are a number of tests that help a person to understand whether a person is suffering from arrhythmia or not: electrocardiogram, event monitor, echocardiogram, implantable loop recorder and holter monitor. Doctors may also recommend other tests like stress test, tilt table test or electrophysiological testing and capping if he/she has not been able to diagnose a person with the previous tests. A person who has not been diagnosed with the condition even after he/she has undergone these tests is not eligible for treatment.
When a pacemaker is installed to treat bradycardia, some of the side-effects may include a lot of swelling in the arms due to blood clots, pain, bleeding or bruising in the days following the surgery. Other side-effects may include problems in the device that may require another procedure to fix them and an infection in the chest near the pacemaker. Vagal maneuvers should only be done if a person is not suffering from chest pain, lightheadedness or shortness of breath. Otherwise, a person may suffer a heart attack. Some of the side-effects of using anti-arrhythmic drugs include allergic reaction, fainting, chest pain, vision problems, shortness of breath, abnormally fast heartbeat and even worsening of the initial condition.
Some of the post-treatment guidelines that a person who has been treated from arrhythmia can follow are exercising regularly, quitting smoking, maintaining a healthy diet, eating foods that are good for the heart, keeping blood pressure and cholesterol levels in check, visiting the doctor regularly and reducing the intake of alcohol.
The time for recovery may depend on what kind of disorder that person is suffering from and what is the treatment that is being administered to him/her. A person who has undergone surgical procedures to get his/her condition fixed would typically require a few weeks of time to recover from the after effects of the surgery. Implantable devices like a defibrillator or a pacemaker are generally permanently implanted and a person has to deal with these devices for as long as they are implanted.
There are a variety of pacemakers available and they can be obtained within a price range of Rs 45000 – Rs 3 lakhs. Coronary bypass surgery can cost in between Rs 1.8 – 2.5 lakhs. Maze procedure can cost more than 2.5 lakhs in India. Cardioversion may cost almost Rs 35000.
The different treatments that are used to treat arrhythmia may help to restore the normal functionalities of the heart. But surgical procedures or implantation of external devices in our body have their fair share of side-effects. To get permanently cured of arrhythmia, a person needs to make some lifestyle changes and shift to a healthy diet and also will have to exercise regularly.