Arrhythmias Explained

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In order for the heart to pump blood around the body effectively, it needs to be beating in what is medically known as a ‘resting heart rate’. Depending upon various factors in the individual’s life, including activity and fitness levels, medication and emotions, the resting heart rate can vary.

A normal resting heart rate in an adult ranges from 60 to 100 beats per minute. However, there are certain circumstances where the heart beats in irregular rhythms that can either be too slow or too fast; these are what are known as arrhythmias.

Some arrhythmias can be dangerous whereas others are not. In this post, we explore three different arrhythmias and what steps need to be taken should an emergency situation involving this occur.

Ventricular Tachycardia

Ventricular Tachycardia (V-Tach or VT) is an arrhythmia in which the heart beats over 100 beats per minute for more than three beats in a row.

Similarly to other arrhythmias, V-Tach is caused by an electrical malfunction in the heart’s electrical system. Your heart is controlled by electrical impulses which trigger each contraction of the heart. When this process is disrupted and the impulses are sent too quickly, V-Tach can occur.

With the heart beating too fast, there may not be enough time for the lower chambers of the heart to fill before the heart beats meaning the organ is not pumping blood effectively around the body.

The length of someone experiencing V-Tach may vary; this arrhythmia doesn’t always cause symptoms, but when it does these can include:

  • Fatigue
  • Fainting
  • Dizziness
  • Chest Pains
  • Shortage of Breath

People who suffer from V-Tach are at risk of it developing into Ventricular Fibrillation. With the heart beating so fast and in an irregular rhythm, the heart can eventually stop working. If you are concerned about Ventricular Tachycardia, make an appointment with your GP who will be able to advise possible precautions.

Bradycardia

Bradycardia is the opposite of V-Tach, in which the heart beats at an abnormally slow rate, less than 60 beats per minute.

For some people, including athletes, who are physically fit, having a lower heart rate is a sign of being in a healthy physical condition, whereas for others it is a cause for concern.

Bradycardia can be a sign that there is a disruption in the heart’s electrical system – usually signifying the heart’s natural pacemaker isn’t working right or the electrical pathways have been disrupted.

In some circumstances, Bradycardia can be life-threatening as the heart isn’t pumping enough blood around the body, meaning the organ’s needs are not being met and are being deprived of oxygenated blood.

Those who are experiencing Bradycardia may experience:

  • Near-fainting or fainting
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Memory problems
  • Chest pains
  • Weakness
  • Easy tiring

It is important to seek medical advice if you think you’re suffering from these symptoms as only professional testing will help you find out whether or not you are experiencing Bradycardia.

Ventricular Fibrillation

Ventricular Fibrillation or V-fib, is the most serious cardiac arrhythmia an individual can experience. This arrhythmia causes the victim to go into cardiac arrest.

Unlike the other two arrhythmias we have covered, Ventricular Fibrillation causes the heart to stop beating completely and quiver instead, meaning the whole body and its organs are deprived of oxygenated blood.

This arrhythmia requires immediate medical attention in the form of effective CPR and a potentially life-saving shock from a defibrillator device. If the casualty is provided with the life-saving care within 3-5 minutes of collapse, then their chance of survival increases from 6% to 74%.

Unlike other arrhythmias, there are no warning signs or symptoms for Ventricular Fibrillation. Only 20% of cardiac arrest victims are in a shockable rhythm when the EMS arrives; this is one of the many reasons why immediate treatment is vital in increasing the patient’s chances of survival.  As the CPR on a 30 compression to 2 rescue breath ratio assists with keeping their heart in a shockable rhythm for the defibrillator to shock.

Beat for Beat

Being able to recognise these different arrhythmias and understanding the required treatment for each one is the key to assisting someone experiencing an irregular arrhythmia.

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