What is the rhythm of your heart?
Does your heart sometimes skip a beat? Or maybe your heart beats too fast? Perhaps it beats too slow? Most people have experienced an episode or two of abnormal heart rhythm, but when does the irregularity warrant a trip to the doctor or an electrophysiologist?
“An abnormal heart rhythm is called an arrhythmia. Sometimes, the electrical system of the heart doesn’t work properly which causes a temporary change in the feeling of your heartbeat,” explains Jason Huang, MD, an electrophysiologist at Denver Heart. “Many times, this is not a cause for concern. But if it happens regularly, you should talk to your primary care doctor or make an appointment with an electrophysiologist—a physician who has undergone specialized, advanced training in heart rhythm disorders and treatment.”
The heart of the matter
The heart is comprised of two upper chambers, called the atria, and two lower chambers, called the ventricles. The right atrium has a structure called the sinus node, which emits electrical impulses to start each beat of the heart. The impulse contracts the atria muscles and blood is pumped into the ventricles. The electrical impulses then reach the atrioventricular node. This node slows the signal before it gets to the ventricles, which allows the ventricles to collect blood. The electrical impulses then reach the ventricles, signaling them to contract and pump blood to the rest of the body. This typically happens between 60 to 100 times each minute!
“When the heart beats more than 100 times a minute, we call it tachycardia. When the heart beats less than 60 times per minute, we call it bradycardia,” Dr. Huang details. “There are occasions when it is normal for the heart to beat faster or slower—upon exercise or when sleeping, for example.”
Types of arrhythmia
When the heart beats faster than 100 beats a minute or slower than 60 beats per minute without a defined natural cause, it will likely fall into one of three categories: supraventricular arrhythmia, ventricular arrhythmia, bradyarrhythmia. The most common form of irregular heart rhythm is atrial fibrillation (Afib). During Afib, the heart creates many impulses, all of which try to reach the atrioventricular node. This leads to disorganized, irregular, rapid heart rhythms. Another common arrhythmia is premature ventricular contractions (PVCs). During PCV, the ventricles create early, extra heartbeats.