How to Live with Recurrent Arrhythmias
August 30, 2023
It’s common for people to experience occasional heart palpitations. Although feeling your heart thud inside your chest or having your heart rate suddenly speed up feels odd, it likely isn’t dangerous. Blame it on too much caffeine, alcohol or a particularly stressful day.
Intermittent arrhythmias (irregular heartbeats) don’t usually need treatment. But what about when it happens repeatedly? Recurrent arrhythmias can cause symptoms that affect your everyday activities. They occur more frequently, last longer and are more severe than just a minor blip once in a while. Recurrent arrhythmias require treatment and monitoring.
How Recurrent Arrhythmias Affect Daily Life
An arrhythmia is a problem with the heart’s electrical activity. It can cause the heart to beat too fast, too slow or irregularly. When it happens often, it can affect your heart function, making your heart less effective at pumping blood.
Not everyone with an arrhythmia has symptoms. But many people can tell when their heart is offbeat. Frequently experiencing symptoms may affect your ability to work, drive, travel or carry out daily activities.
Typically, people with arrhythmia have episodes of feeling their heart racing or beating abnormally in their chest or throat. Other symptoms include feeling:
- Lightheaded or dizzy
Signs you need emergency care include:
- Chest pressure or pain
- Shortness of breath
What causes recurrent AFib and other arrhythmias?
There are many different types of arrhythmias, and their causes vary too. Atrial fibrillation (AFib) is the most common. It makes the heart beat too fast and out of rhythm. Recurrent arrhythmias are often the result of heart disease or damage. They’re typically caused by a health problem that:
- Hasn’t been diagnosed
- Can’t be corrected
- Isn’t responding to treatment
Conditions that can lead to more severe arrhythmia include:
- Congenital heart disease (being born with a heart defect)
- Heart attack or heart failure
- Heart surgery
- High blood pressure
- Severe COVID-19
Effective Arrhythmia Management
After receiving a recurrent arrhythmia diagnosis, getting your symptoms under control is a top priority. Your primary care provider (PCP) may refer you to an electrophysiologist. These doctors specialize in the heart’s electrical system and managing arrhythmias. An electrophysiologist can:
- Determine the type of arrhythmia you have
- Recommend the best medical treatment for you
- Suggest healthy lifestyle changes
- Help reduce your risk of complications, like stroke
- Monitor your condition
Recurrent arrhythmia treatment
Working with your doctor, you can reduce the frequency and severity of arrhythmia attacks. There are several treatment options to correct arrhythmias. Your doctor may recommend medication or a minimally invasive procedure called cardiac ablation.
People whose arrhythmias don’t respond to other treatments may need an implantable device to regulate their heartbeat. These devices also offer another benefit: They monitor your condition around the clock.
Doctors use monitoring devices to detect arrhythmias and pinpoint the type of irregular heartbeat you have. The electrocardiogram (EKG) is the gold standard. It tracks and records your heart’s activity.
Sometimes the test is done in a medical setting, but often you wear a portable EKG at home. Another option is an implantable loop recorder, a small chip with an EKG placed under your skin above your chest. Wearables and implants allow your doctor to see how your heart performs for an extended period while you go about your daily activities.
Continuing to monitor arrhythmias after diagnosis is important, too. They can change over time. For minor arrhythmias, monitoring may be as simple as:
- Noticing and reporting when symptoms change
- Getting alerts from a smartwatch or fitness wearable
- Going to regular check-ups
In more complex cases, your doctor may want to monitor your condition at home with a wearable or implantable EKG. An implantable device, such as a pacemaker or cardioverter defibrillator, keeps your heart in a healthy rhythm and acts as an EKG. These devices record and send information to a remote patient monitoring center and help to:
- Determine if you have a sporadic, life-threatening arrhythmia
- Identify what triggers your irregular heartbeat
- See if the current treatment plan is working
“Being able to monitor patients while they go about their lives is a huge leap forward in our field,” says Daniel Benhayon Lanes, MD, an electrophysiologist (EP) at Memorial Cardiac and Vascular Institute. “At Memorial, we have an excellent system for reacting to the data from implantable devices. A team regularly reviews the information and alerts the doctor or patient if there’s a concern. Ultimately, it allows us to care for people while they’re at home.”
Living with Recurrent Arrhythmias is Possible
If you experience recurrent arrhythmias, talk with your doctor. It’s essential to get treatment to manage symptoms and prevent complications.
Already diagnosed? Tell your doctor if arrhythmia attacks become more frequent or grow more intense, or if you develop new symptoms. By staying on top of your heart health, you can continue to live your best possible life.
Schedule an appointment with a cardiologist, electrophysiologist or vascular specialist at Memorial Cardiac and Vascular Institute by calling 855-400-6284.