An arrhythmia describes irregular heartbeat – the heart may beat too fast, too slowly, too early, or irregularly.

Arrhythmias occur when the electrical signals to the heart that coordinate heartbeats are not working properly. For instance, some people experience irregular heartbeats, which may feel like a racing heart or fluttering.

Many heart arrhythmias are harmless; however, if they are particularly abnormal, or result from a weak or damaged heart, arrhythmias can cause serious and even potentially fatal symptoms.

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What is arrhythmia?

Heart arrhythmia, also known as irregular heartbeat or cardiac dysrhythmia, is a group of conditions where the heartbeat is irregular, too slow, or too fast.

Arrhythmias are broken down into:

1. Slow heartbeat: bradycardia.

2. Fast heartbeat: tachycardia.

3. Irregular heartbeat: flutter or fibrillation.

4. Early heartbeat: premature contraction.

Most arrhythmias are not serious, but some can predispose the individual to STROKE or CARDIAC ARREST.


The causes of arrhythmia are varied and include diabetes, mental stress, and smoking. A slow heartbeat is not always a sign of illness.

Any interruption to the electrical impulses that cause the heart to contract can result in arrhythmia.

For a person with a healthy heart, they should have a heart rate of between 60-100 beats per minute when resting.

The more fit a person is, the lower their resting heart rate.

Olympic athletes, for example, will usually have a resting heart rate of under 60 beats per minute because their hearts are very efficient.

A number of factors can cause the heart to work incorrectly, they include:

Alcohol abuse


Drug abuse

Excessive coffee consumption

Heart disease like congestive heart failure

Hypertension (high blood pressure)

Hyperthyroidism (an overactive thyroid gland)

Mental stress

Scarring of the heart often the result of a heart attack


Some dietary supplements

Some medications

Structural change s of the heart.

A healthy person will hardly ever suffer from long-term arrhythmia unless they have an external trigger, such as drug abuse or an electric shock. If there is an underlying problem, however, the electrical impulses may not be able to travel through the heart correctly, increasing the likelihood of arrhythmia.

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Symptoms of arrhythmia often include:


Breathlessness, and

Palpitations of the Heart.

However, some arrhythmias have no associated symptoms.

Some patients have no symptoms, but a doctor might detect an arrhythmia during a routine examination or on an EKG.

Even if a patient notices symptoms, it does not necessarily mean there is a serious problem; for instance, some patients with life-threatening arrhythmias may have no symptoms while others with symptoms may not have a serious problem.

Symptoms depend on the type of arrhythmia; we will explain the most common below:

Symptoms of tachycardia

Tachycardia is when the heart beats quicker than normal; symptoms include:

breathlessness (dyspnea)dizziness syncope (fainting, or nearly fainting)fluttering in the chest pain light headedness sudden weakness

Symptoms of bradycardia

Bradycardia is when the heart beats slower than normal; symptoms include:

angina (chest pain)trouble concentrating confusion difficulties when exercising dizziness fatigue (tiredness)light headedness palpitations shortness of breath syncope (fainting or nearly fainting)diaphoresis, or sweating

Symptoms of atrial fibrillation

Atrial fibrillation is when the upper chambers of the heart beat in an irregular pattern and out of synchrony with the lower chambers. Symptoms often develop rapidly, although sometimes, there are no symptoms:

angina (chest pain), breathlessness (dyspnea), dizziness, palpitations, syncope (fainting, or nearly fainting)weakness.


Older age is a risk factor for arrhythmia.

The following are possible risk factors for arrhythmia:

old age, inherited gene defects, heart problems, hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism, some prescription medications, and over-the-counter drugs, hypertension, obesity, uncontrolled diabetes, obstructive sleep apnea, electrolyte imbalances, heavy and regular alcohol consumption, too much caffeine, illegal drugs.


Stroke – fibrillation (quivering) means that the heart is not pumping properly. This can cause blood to collect in pools and clots can form. If one of the clots dislodges it may travel to a brain artery, blocking it, and causing a stroke. Stroke can cause brain damage and can sometimes be fatal.

Heart failure – prolonged tachycardia or bradycardia can result in the heart not pumping enough blood to the body and its organs – this is heart failure. Treatment can usually help improve this.

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