What are Cardiac Arrhythmias?

Cardiac arrhythmias occur when there is a problem with the electrical system of the heart. This causes an abnormal rate or rhythm during which the heart can beat too fast (tachycardia), too slow (bradycardia), or irregularly. Most arrhythmias are harmless, however some can be serious and even life threatening.

Many arrhythmias do not cause symptoms. Listed below are the most common symptoms reported with cardiac arrhythmias:

  • Dizziness
  • Light-headedness
  • Weakness
  • Syncope or pre-syncope (fainting or pre-fainting)
  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Slow heart beat
  • Irregular heart beat
  • Palpitations (heart skipping or fluttering)

In our clinic, it is important to establish whether or not a patient’s symptoms of dizziness are due to inner ear/brain problems versus cardiovascular/cardiogenic causes.

How are Cardiac Arrhythmias Diagnosed?

If a patient complains of episodic dizziness, light-headedness, syncope or pre-syncope while sitting down and without any clear exacerbating factors (head or body movement) then there is concern for a cardiac arrhythmia.

Patients suspected of having a cardiac arrhythmia still undergo evaluation withinfrared video oculography to evaluate for other causes of episodic vertigo, which include benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV) and vestibular migraine. If orthostatic hypotension is suspected, then a tilt test is performed. If these studies are normal, the patient is referred either back to their primary care physician or to a cardiologist for further workup. This workup may include an electrocardiogram (EKG), 24-hour cardiac holter monitor, 21-day cardiac event monitor, cardiac echocardiogram, stress test, or carotid ultrasound as deemed necessary by the consulting provider.

How are Cardiac Arrhythmias Treated?

Treatment of cardiac arrhythmias depends on the cause and severity of symptoms. Treatment options include medication, medical procedures, and surgery. Click on the following link for further information from the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute regarding cardiac arrhythmias and treatment options.