Arrhythmias are abnormal heart rhythms, which cause the heart to beat too fast (tachycardia) or too slow (bradycardia) and to pump blood less effectively.
Arrhythmias are very common, affecting millions of people worldwide. They are
the main cause of sudden cardiac death in the United States, accounting for
more than 400,000 deaths each year.
Arrhythmias are caused by either a disruption of the normal electrical conduction
system of the heart, or heart disease.
Normally, the four chambers of the heart (two atria and two ventricles) contract
in a very coordinated manner:
The signal for the heart to contract in a synchronized manner is an electrical
impulse that begins in the "sinoatrial node" (also called the SA
node), which is the body's natural pacemaker.
The signal leaves the sinoatrial node and travels through the two atria, stimulating them to contract. Then, the signal passes through another node (the AV node), and finally travels to the ventricles and stimulates them to contract in synchrony.
Problems can occur anywhere along the conduction system, causing various arrhythmias. There can also be a problem in the heart muscle itself, causing it to respond differently to the signal, or causing the ventricles to contract in an uncoordinated manner.
An arrhythmia occurs when:
the heart's natural pacemaker develops an abnormal rate or rhythm
the normal conduction pathway is interrupted
another part of the heart takes over as pacemaker
disease in the heart muscle allows electricity to travel in a circuit generating
a rapid and often dangerous heart rhythm
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