What is irregular heartbeat?

Irregular heartbeats, or heart arrhythmias, occur when the electrical signals that coordinate your heartbeats are not working properly. This causes your heart to beat too fast, too slow or irregularly. If you have an irregular heartbeat, it can feel like your heart is fluttering or racing. In some cases, arrhythmias can be harmless, but sometimes they can be life-threatening. Effective treatment for irregular heartbeats can regulate your heartbeat and help your heart be healthier.

Atrial fibrillation — or AFib — is the most common heart arrhythmia disorder. About 2.2 million Americans are currently diagnosed with atrial fibrillation, and that number is expected to double in the next 30 years. Atrial fibrillation is caused by an electrical “short circuit” in the heart. This electrical issue can create rapid or skipped heartbeats. Atrial fibrillation can be found in both patients who have been diagnosed with heart disease and those who have no heart disease. As you age, your chances of developing atrial fibrillation increase.

If you experience any of these common atrial fibrillation symptoms, consider an evaluation with an Ohio State physician:

  • Heart fluttering or rapid heartbeat
  • Flutter or rapid heartbeat associated with:
    • Progressive fatigue
    • Shortness of breath
    • Lightheadedness or loss of consciousness

Arrhythmia symptoms

In some cases, you may not experience any symptoms with an irregular heartbeat. If you do notice arrhythmia symptoms, they may include:

  • Anxiety
  • Dizziness or fainting (syncope)
  • Fatigue
  • Fluttering feeling in your chest
  • Pain in your chest
  • Racing heartbeat (tachycardia)
  • Shortness of breath
  • Slow heartbeat (bradycardia)
  • Unusual sweating

What causes an irregular heartbeat?

Certain health conditions can cause you to develop an irregular heartbeat. These conditions include:

  • Changes to the heart’s structure due to an underlying condition like cardiomyopathy
  • Coronary artery disease
  • Diabetes
  • Heart attack
  • High blood pressure (hypertension)
  • Overactive (hyperthyroidism) or underactive (hypothyroidism) thyroid gland
  • Scarring of heart tissue due to prior heart attack
  • Sleep apnea

Other factors that can cause an irregular heartbeat include:

  • Being a smoker
  • Drinking excessive amounts of caffeine or alcohol
  • Having certain genes
  • Having unmanaged stress or anxiety
  • Taking certain medications and supplements, such as over-the-counter cold and allergy drugs and nutritional supplements
  • Using recreational drugs

Preventing an irregular heartbeat

Living a heart-healthy lifestyle can help reduce your chances of developing an arrhythmia. Lifestyle modifications you can make to reduce your risk include:

  • Achieving and maintaining a healthy weight
  • Eating a heart-healthy diet that is high in fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains, and low in saturated fats and cholesterol
  • Getting regular exercise
  • Limiting or avoiding alcoholic and caffeinated drinks
  • Managing the stress and anxiety in your life using healthy coping mechanisms
  • Not smoking
  • Speaking with your doctor or pharmacist before taking cough and cold medications, as these can affect your heart rate

Why Ohio State is the best hospital for your heart palpitation treatment

Ohio State Wexner Medical Center is one of the top programs in the nation treating heart rhythm disorders such as atrial fibrillation, and receives some of the highest marks for hospital quality and safety. We offer cutting-edge care to treat arrhythmia in a dedicated floor of Ohio State Richard M. Ross Heart Hospital. Our patients are treated by world-class physicians who are also pioneering new research, devices and surgical procedures to innovate care.

We are one of the highest volume centers in the nation offering the full spectrum of arrhythmia treatment options. These include device implants such as pacemakers and defibrillators, ablation procedures and surgical procedures. Ohio State has been a leading pioneer in researching and testing pacemaker and defibrillator technology. This experience provides added benefits patient care and gives you access to leading-edge devices.

Suspect you have an abnormal heart rhythm? Start your evaluation with Ohio State by calling 614-293-1410.

Irregular heartbeat videos

What are Heart Rhythm Problems?

John Hummel, MD, a heart rhythm specialist at Ohio State’s Heart and Vascular Center explains the causes, symptoms and treatments of abnormal heart rhythms.

Evaluation and Treatment of Irregular Heartbeat

If the problem doesn’t go away quickly on its own or is associated with chest discomfort, light headedness, dizziness or shortness of breath, evaluation should occur, says Sitaramesh Emani, MD, a cardiologist at Ohio State’s Wexner Medical Center.

Patient Story

Ohio State patient Greg shares his story of AFib treatment.
Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently Asked Questions

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