Abnormal Heart Rhythm

Published on June 24, 2022

The heart beats continuously at a rate of 60 to 100 beats a minute at a regular rhythm. In some cases, the heart beats too fast or too slow or loses its constant rhythm. A disturbance in the heart rhythm is called arrhythmia. There are several types of arrhythmia – some are completely harmless, while others may be life threatening and require immediate treatment.

Arrhythmia – Cause

Arrhythmia may occur due to a problem in the heart such as a blocked artery, a previous heart attack or a problem in the heart muscle. It could also be due to a cause unrelated to the heart such as anxiety, high thyroid hormone levels, or the intake of certain medicines.

Arrhythmia – Symptoms

An abnormal heart rhythm may be unnoticed, or may be described as skip beats, racing, pounding, fluttering or palpitations in the chest. The appearance of an irregular heart beat for the first time, very slow or very fast heart beats, the presence of chest pain, shortness of breath or fainting, a prior heart disease or a family history of an early death due to a cardiac cause are some conditions that require immediate attention.

Arrhythmia – Tests

An ECG that is taken during the episode of irregular beats may pick up the abnormal beats, while one taken between episodes may be normal. In such cases, continuous ECG monitoring over a day or two is advised to pick up the abnormal beats. Tests are also advised to find the cause of the abnormal beats so that it may be appropriately treated.


Govender I, Nashed KK, Rangiah S, Okeke S, Maphasha OM. Palpitations: Evaluation and management by primary care practitioners. S Afr Fam Pract. 2022;64(1), a5449. https://doi.org/10.4102/safp.v64i1.5449.  Available under Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/)

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