Signs and Symptoms of an Arrhythmia

Some arrhythmias are “silent,” causing no symptoms, while others cause bothersome symptoms that may be brief, long-lasting, or sudden and intense. Symptoms associated with arrhythmia may include:

  • palpitations, or skipping a beat
  • fluttering feeling in chest or neck
  • racing heart sensation
  • fatigue
  • weakness
  • dizziness or lightheadedness
  • fainting or almost fainting
  • shortness of breath
  • chest pain
  • suddenly rapid, chaotic heartbeat

Syncope, or fainting (or almost fainting), or feeling dizzy or lightheaded, can be caused by serious heart rhythm disorders and should be evaluated thoroughly.

Types of Arrhythmias

Supraventricular arrhythmias (begin in the atria, the upper chambers of the heart):

  • Atrial Fibrillation (AFib) - the most common arrhythmia, affecting about 5 million people in the United States. The heartbeat is irregular and fast, an AFib can lead to other rhythm disturbances.
  • Atrial Flutter - Like AFib, atrial flutter is characterized by a rapid heartbeat. Unlike AFib, which is caused by many disorganized electrical signals, atrial flutter is caused by a single electrical wave circulating very quickly.
  • Sick Sinus Syndrome (SSS) - group of symptoms indicating the heart’s natural electrical “trigger” – the sinoatrial node, where the electrical signal begins – is not working properly. The heartbeat can switch back and forth between too slow and too fast.
  • Sinus tachycardia - normal harmless elevation in heart rate due to excitement, exercise or fever. It rarely requires treatment.

Ventricular arrhythmias (begin in the ventricles, or lower chambers of the heart):

  • Ventricular tachycardia (VT) - extremely fast heart rate, typically associated with other heart disease, although it occasionally occurs in healthy hearts. Requires prompt treatment and aggressive monitoring because it can lead to ventricular fibrillation (see next item).
  • Ventricular fibrillation (VF) - occurs suddenly and without warning, and stops all heart function. VF causes sudden cardiac death, also known as cardiac arrest. The only effective treatment is defibrillation, and it must be performed quickly to save the patient's life.
  • Long QT Syndrome - an electrical system disorder that may be caused by genetics, medications or a combination of both. People with Long QT Syndrome are at a higher risk of ventricular arrhythmias.

Other arrhythmias:

  • Premature contractions - early, extra or "skipped" heartbeats are the most frequent cause of irregular rhythms. They may occur in the upper chambers, atria (PACs), or lower chambers, ventricles (PVCs).
  • Heart block - electrical signals created in the upper chambers don’t reach the lower chambers, causing the heart to beat too slowly.