American Heart Month is underway, a time during which community members are encouraged to learn about heart disease and how to make healthy lifestyle changes to lead to a lifetime of heart health. During the month of February, Saint Joseph Berea, part of KentuckyOne Health, is encouraging all to talk to your physician if you or a loved one experiences symptoms of irregular heartbeats, known as heart arrhythmias.
“For many people, heart arrhythmias often feel like a fast heartbeat or a fluttering feeling within the chest,” said Firas El Sabbagh, MD, KentuckyOne Health Cardiology Associates. “While heart arrhythmias can be harmless for many people, they can also be accompanied by serious or life-threatening symptoms, so it’s important to understand when to make an appointment with your physician to ensure you receive the proper treatment and management.”
Heart arrhythmias occur when there is a change to the normal sequence of electrical impulses that coordinate heartbeats. This can result in the heart beating too fast, too slow or irregularly, which can affect whether blood is being pumped effectively within the body. When this occurs over time, the lungs, brain and other organs can also be affected, resulting in damage or the organs being shut down.
While some people may not experience noticeable symptoms of heart arrhythmia, for others, they might notice chest pain, dizziness, lightheadedness, sweating, fainting or near fainting, chest pain or discomfort. In extreme cases, a person experiencing heart arrhythmia may collapse or have sudden cardiac arrest, or a heart attack. If you begin experiencing these symptoms, it’s important to seek medical attention immediately.
Causes of heart arrhythmia may be a result of a heart attack, scarring of the heart from a previous heart attack, congenital heart disease, blocked arteries within the heart, high blood pressure, overactive or underactive thyroid, drug use, smoking, drinking too much caffeine or alcohol, diabetes, stress, sleep apnea, over-the-counter cold and allergy medication or nutritional supplements, or genetics. Experiencing an arrhythmia may increase a person’s risk of developing heart failure or even stroke.
To diagnose heart arrhythmia, a physician will conduct a physical examination and review a patient’s symptoms and medical history. Heart-monitoring tests may also be performed, including an electrocardiogram (ECG) to detect electrical activity of the heart, or a portable ECG to be worn over the course of a day or two. An echocardiogram may also be used to produce images of the heart, or an implantable loop recorder can be implanted under the skin in the chest area to detect abnormal heart rhythms. Additional tests, such as a stress test, may be performed if an arrhythmia isn’t found but further testing is needed.
“To help prevent heart arrhythmia, it’s also important to make heart-healthy lifestyle changes,” said Dr. El Sabbagh. “Exercise regularly, stop smoking, eat heart-healthy foods, keep your blood pressure and cholesterol levels under control, maintain a healthy weight, and practice moderation when drinking caffeine and alcohol.”
If you are experiencing an irregular heartbeat or palpitations, schedule an appointment with a health care provider. To speak to a primary care provider, call 888.570.8092, or visit www.kentuckyonehealth.org/