Heart palpitations are a form of arrhythmia that can be a symptom of atrial fibrillation, and can be a frightening experience. For many of us it’s the only time that we are reminded that we have a miraculous, beating, blood pumping machine inside our chest, that we are totally reliant upon to keep us alive.
When the normal heart rhythm is disrupted for whatever reason, and the heart starts to beat irregularly, we can start to panic, fearing that our heart may stop beating altogether and we will imminently die.
Heart arrythmia are often mis-diagnosed or are not treated with the seriousness they deserve, as primary healthcare providers are often unaware of the symptoms or that specialist treatment centres are now available.
Atrial fibrillation is one of the most common forms of heart arrhythmia, and affects up to one million people in the United Kingdom of all age groups. Sufferers experience distressing symptoms of rapid and irregular heart beat, accompanied by shortage of breath and dizziness. It is a serious condition, that left untreated can double the risk of dying from heart failure. It has also been shown to be a factor in triggering up to one third of strokes.
The longer it is left untreated, the more serious it becomes.
Traditional treatments for atrial fibrillation have involved prescribing drugs that have been associated with serious and unpleasant side effects that are little better than the condition they are supposed to treat – nausea, breathlessness and light sensitivity. Now there is a new treatment available – a technologically enhanced version of catheter ablation – that has previously only been suitable for a different type of arrhythmia known as Tachycardia.
Catheter ablation is performed by a specialist doctor known as an electrophysiologist. The procedure involves using a probe that is inserted into the groin, and is fed upwards through the blood vessels until it reaches the heart. An electric current is then passed through the probe that heats the surrounding tissue that is responsible for disrupting the electrical signals around the heart. This restores the normal electrical impulse transmission through the heart muscle, and is a successful treatment in most cases.
Until recently, this technique was not suitable for treating atrial fibrillation, as there are multiple sources of electrical signal disruption associated with this condition, whereas with Tachycardia there is usually only a single source of electrical signal disruption, making it easier to target with the treatment. New technology has allowed the catheter ablation treatment to be successfully applied to cases of atrial fibrillation, and, since 2007 has been providing sufferers of atrial fibrillation with a permanent solution to this distressing heart problem.
We’ve looked at an introduction to the type of heart arrhythmia where the heart beats excessively fast – known as Tachycardia. This introduction looked at it’s physiology and anatomical symptoms. We’re now going to investigate the various reasons why some people develop the condition, and look at the associated risk factors.
The are two reasons why people develop Tachycardias :-
- Medical conditions
- External factors linked to lifestyle choices
Medical conditions linked to Tachycardia
A number of widely differing medical causes may result in you developing a tachycardia. These are listed, but not limited to those described below :-
- High blood pressure (Hypertension) – this inevitably results in an increased workload, and hence strain on the heart. This can result in an enlarged or weaknened heart that can trigger a tachycardia
- Atherosclerosis – this is where the arteries become hardened or narrowed due to the dietary build up fatty plaques
- Heart attack – If you have already suffered from a heart attack, then you have an increased risk of tachycardia
- Cardiomyopathy – the deterioration of the function of the heart muscle
- Damage to the component parts of the heart – for example, heart valves may be damaged, and malfunction due to cardiovascular disease
- Age – advancing years cause an increased susceptibility to developing an arrhythmia.
- Genetic related – If you have a family history of heart disease or specifically arrhythmia, this increases the risk of developing tachycardia
- Hyperthyroidism – excess thyroid hormone secretion from a malfunctioning thyroid gland increases the body’s metabolic rate (like the throttle on an automobile). This can lead to a raised or unpredictable heart rate
- Sleep apnea – if you suffer from this this sleep disorder you will regularly stop breathing repeatedly during sleep. This causes a lack of oxygen that can lead to a type of tachycardia known as atrial fibrillation.
- Chemical imbalance – An imbalance of certain important minerals in your blood, such as potassium, sodium, calcium and magnesium can impact upon the normal functioning of the heart’s electrical system, and lead to an irregular or increased heart rate
Dietary and Lifestyle causes of Tachycardia
Apart from the physiological factors mentioned above, external diet, habits and environment can interfere with the heart’s usual ordered rhythm, controlled by the heart’s regular electrical impulses, and can trigger a tachycardia.
For most people, normal quantities of the products listed below do not cause any problems. However, some people may be more likely to suffer a tachycardia than others, for a given amount of the substance concerned. Very high quantities of one or more of these products can also trigger a tachycardia in anyone, whether they have a susceptibility to the condition or not.
- Prescription medications or drugs
- Cigarette or Cigar Tobacco
- Unapproved herbal remedies
- Dietary additives or supplements
- Illegal narcotics or drugs
- Chemicals used in the workplace or at home
What is Tachycardia ?
Tachycardia is a type of heart arrhythmia where the heart beats excessively fast. Most people experience the odd additional or missed heartbeat, usually without noticing it, as a result of excitement, anxiety or stress. However, persistent abnormal beating of the heart is a medical condition known as an ‘arrhythmia’. The heart may develop a condition where it beats too quickly, too slowly, or flutters irregularly with missing or additional beats. The condition may be temporary, or it may happen regularly. The average adult resting heartbeat lies within a range of between 60 and 100 per beats minute. Tachycardia is the name given to the condition where your heart beats at more than 100 times per minute.
Is Tachycardia a dangerous condition ?
Most arrhythmia including Tachycardia are not serious. However, any abnormality associated with the heart can quickly develop into a serious, or even life threatening emergency, leading to heart attack or death. It essential to seek qualified medical attention if you start to suffer from an excessively high heart rate, so that a proper medical diagnosis can be made, and you can be given the correct treatment.
What causes Tachycardia ?
The heart is a mechanical pump that operates by the expansion and contraction of it’s component muscles. The operation is controlled by electrical impulses that are regulated by an internal pacemaker known as the sinus node, and it is the disruption of these electrical signals that can cause irregular beating, or arrhythmia.
Each heartbeat starts in the upper right chamber of the heart, known the right atrium. An electrical pulse causes the contraction of the muscle that in turn causes the lower chambers (ventricles) to fill with blood. The electrical pulse then crosses over to the ventricles through a conduit known as the AV node, causing them in turn to contract and squeeze the blood out into the rest of the body.
This basic repetitive cycle can become interrupted due to an internal medical problem, or an externally induced cause such as stress, fatigue, excess intake of stimulants such as caffeine and nicotine, alcohol or medications, such as decongestants and alcohol. This interruption can cause the heart to beat too fast, and trigger a Tachycardia.
What are the Symptoms of Tachycardia ?
The result of the heart beating too fast during a Tachycardia is that it may become inefficient in it’s task of controlling the circulation of blood around the body. This inevitably leads to a deprivation of oxygen rich blood in other parts of the body, and apart from the physical sensation of a racing pulse, the following additional symptoms may be experienced (or there may be no noticeable symptoms at all) :-
- Chest pain or unusual feeling in the chest
- Heart palpitations
- loss of consciousness
- feeling of anxiety
- Dizziness and lightheadedness
British Scientists have invented a new type of medical heart pacemaker that draws some of its power from the heart itself. This is an important breakthrough in the field of self powered devices which can be implanted into the human body.
Although the discovery was part of an experimental project, it is an important breakthrough in UK pacemaker research which could bring benefits to the design and manufacture of heart pacemakers, defibrillators and other implantable medical devices.
The research was carried out at Southampton University Hospital in the United Kingdom, and produced a device which was capable of producing approximately 17 percent of all the electricity required to run the pacemaker from the energy of the beating heart.
Battery free pacemaker within a few years
According to Dr Paul Roberts from the University Hospital ‘This was a proof-of-concept study, and we proved the concept’. The researchers believe that a battery-free heart pacemaker could be available within the next few years, which will reduce the long term pacemaker cost and help to reduce pacemaker problems.
Heart Pacemakers are fitted to people who suffer from abnormal heart rhythms – also known as arrhythmia – under the advice of a doctor or cardiologist. Arrhythmia, although not usually serious can be a distressing complaint where the heart beats slower or faster than normal, or beats erratically, which can be very worrying for the sufferer. In very rare cases the arrhythmia can be fatal, with as many as 500 deaths per year attributable to the condition in the United Kingdom each year.
The heart pacemaker is a small, battery powered electronic medical device which is usually surgically implanted under the collar bone of the pacemaker patient. It works by sending precisely timed electrical impulses to the heart to control the rate of the heart’s beating, and keep it to a constant rate.
Another type of device – also implanted, is the cardioverter defibrillator which is similar to the pacemaker, but is capable of detecting dangerous abnormal heart rhythms. It then sends small electric shocks to the heart to correct the problem arrhythmia. There are also other special types of pacemaker for tachycardia, or a bradycardia pacemaker, or ones used to help to treat heart failure are available.
Pacemaker battery replacement currently requires a surgical operation
In all of the above examples, although the battery life varies between different manufacturer’s pacemaker types, it will usually need replacing after eight to ten years.
The pacemaker procedure for battery replacement involves another surgical operation that has to be performed under general anaesthetic sedation.
This is a costly operation, costing as much as 15,000 dollars or more, so the arrival of a battery free pacemaker is eagerly awaited by the medical profession, and health insurance