Most arrhythmias are considered harmless and are left untreated. Once your doctor has documented that you have an arrhythmia, he or she will need to find out whether it’s abnormal or merely reflects the heart’s normal processes. He or she will also determine whether your arrhythmia is clinically significant – that is, whether it causes symptoms or puts you at risk for more serious arrhythmias or complications of arrhythmias in the future (View an animation of arrhythmia). If your arrhythmia is abnormal and clinically significant, your doctor will set a treatment plan.
- Prevent blood clots from forming to reduce stroke risk
- Control your heart rate within a relatively normal range
- Restore a normal heart rhythm, if possible
- Treat heart disease/condition that may be causing arrhythmia
- Reduce other risk factors for heart disease and stroke
- Arrhythmias can happen at any age and having one doesn’t necessarily mean you have a heart problem.
- Symptoms will depend on the type and severity of your arrhythmia, but may include feeling dizzy, breathless or tired.
- Often it isn’t possible to find a cause for an arrhythmia but they may develop as a result of a health condition, such as diabetes or coronary heart disease.
- You may not need any treatment but if you do, it may include taking medicines, for example beta-blockers, to control your heart rate.
Living With Arrhythmia
- Take all medications exactly as prescribed.
- Never stop taking any prescription medication without first consulting your healthcare provider.
- If you have any side effects, tell your healthcare provider about them.
- Tell your healthcare provider about all your other drugs and supplements, including over-the-counter medications and vitamins.
Monitor Your Pulse
You should know how to take your pulse – especially if you have an artificial pacemaker.
- Put the second and third fingers of one hand on the inside of the wrist of the other hand, just below the thumb OR on the side of your neck, just below the corner of your jaw.
- Feel for the pulse.
- Count the number of beats in one full minute.
- Keep a record of your pulse along with the day and time taken and notes about how you felt at the time. Use our blood pressure/pulse tracker.
Substances to Avoid
Certain substances can contribute to an irregular heartbeat, including:
- Cold and cough medications
- Appetite suppressants
- Psychotropic drugs (used to treat certain mental illnesses)
- Antiarrhythmics (paradoxically, the same drugs used to treat arrhythmia can also cause arrhythmia. Your healthcare team will monitor you carefully if you’re taking antiarrhythmic medication.)
- Beta-blockers for high blood pressure
- Street drugs such as cocaine, marijuana and “speed” or methamphetamines
If you’re being treated for arrhythmia and use any of these substances, be sure to discuss this with your doctor.
Manage Your Risk Factors
Just having an arrhythmia increases your risk of heart attack, cardiac arrest and stroke. Work with your healthcare team and follow their instructions to control other risk factors:
- Reduce high blood pressure
- Control cholesterol levels
- Lose excess weight
- Eat a heart-healthy diet
- Avoid tobacco smoke
- Enjoy regular physical activity
Take it one day at a time
Researchers continue to investigate arrhythmias, and they’re making progress. The best thing you can do is to follow your treatment plan and take things one day at a time. Sometimes you may feel that you don’t get the support you need and that the people around you aren’t very understanding. That’s common, because others don’t easily see your symptoms. It’s hard for them to understand that you might be struggling sometimes to function normally. Help others to understand by educating them about your condition and by asking for support to help follow your treatment program.