The heart is an amazing muscle, beating about 100,000 times per day, and more than 2.5 billion times over a lifespan of 80 years. The normal rate is 60 to 100 beats per minute, and this fist-sized organ gets its power from electrical impulses that control the rhythm of the heartbeats.
When problems occur with the electrical system, the result is arrhythmias – or heartbeats that are irregular, too slow or too fast. These arrhythmias vary anywhere from harmless to fatal. Heart palpitations take place when the arrhythmias are experienced as a pounding sensation, a skipped beat or an extra beat.
Causes of Arrhythmias
Each heartbeat takes about a second and has two parts. The upper chambers (or atria) of the heart contract and push blood through the tricuspid and mitral valves into the two lower chambers, called ventricles. The ventricles then contract, sending blood through the pulmonary valve to the lungs (where oxygen is picked up) or through the aortic valve to the body (where oxygen is delivered).
The heartbeat is started by an electrical impulse sent from the sinus node, which serves as the heart’s natural pacemaker. Different jobs are allocated to the other nodes in the heart. Arrhythmias can develop when the heart’s blood supply is reduced or when heart tissue is damaged from such conditions as coronary artery disease, valvular heart disease or cardiomyopathy.
Arrhythmias are described by where they start in the heart (in the atria or in the ventricles) and by the change in speed. Tachycardia is the term for a heartbeat faster than 100 beats per minute, while bradycardia is a heartbeat less than 60 beats per minute. A fast heartbeat during exercise is normal, and athletes typically have a slow resting heart rate due to their hearts being extremely efficient.
Atrial Ectopic Beats
Extra heartbeats caused by electrical impulses in the atria are called atrial ectopic heartbeats. This condition occurs more often in older people and those with lung disorders. They can also be caused by or worsened by consuming coffee, tea, and alcohol and excessive smoking, as well as some asthma, cold and allergy medications. This type of heartbeat does not produce any symptoms and can occur in otherwise healthy people. If the cause is due to electrolyte abnormalities in the blood or ischaemia, the cause should be treated by a physician.
This condition is an extremely common disorder and means the heartbeat is too fast and irregular, usually beating in a range of 150 to 180 beats per minute. Although the disorder may not cause immediate problems, it can lead to other arrhythmias, chronic fatigue and congestive heart failure. Atrial fibrillation also increases the risk of stroke by 500 percent.
This condition consists of a very fast heartbeat. It is typically caused by other types of heart disease, although it can also affect healthy people. Treatment should be administered promptly, as it can lead to the more life-threatening ventricular fibrillation
The most deadly of the arrhythmias, this condition is responsible for sudden cardiac death or cardiac arrest. Around half of the deaths which occur from heart problems are due to ventricular fibrillation. The heartbeat becomes chaotic and too rapid, causing the ventricles to spasm and the heart to ineffectively pump blood. Ventricular fibrillation can be caused by a heart attack, but is not the same thing as a heart attack. It can occur without warning and requires immediate medical treatment or the result will be death, as there is no circulation in the body.
This condition is characterized by electrical impulses in the upper chambers of the heart that are not transmitted correctly to the lower chambers. This results in a heartbeat that is too slow, causing the body to suffer from oxygen deprivation.
Some arrhythmias cannot be prevented. However, it is possible to reduce the risk for many heart conditions that can cause them. Some preventative methods include:
- Exercising regularly
- Eating a low-sugar and low-salt diet
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Giving up smoking
- Avoiding second-hand smoke
- Taking supplements (such as Omega-3 fatty acids)
- Limiting coffee to less than 4 cups per day and alcohol to two drinks per day
Many people experience a skipped or irregular heartbeat on occasion. However, if this is accompanied by shortness of breath, weakness, wheezing, dizziness, fainting, or chest pain or discomfort, seek medical help immediately.
Several herbs and natural supplements are available to provide alternative heart tonics. They include:
- Hawthorn - Known as a natural tonic for the heart, and is thought to gently strengthen the heart muscle, improving blood circulation.
- Coenzyme Q10 and Magnesium – These two products are also well-known for treating arrhythmias.
- Angelica – This herb contains at least 14 anti-arrhythmic compounds.
- Celery – Contains calcium blockers and other phytochemicals for lowering blood pressure and cholesterol.
- Cinchona – This is the source of quinine, a famous treatment for malaria. However, quinine began to gain attention as a remedy for heart problems about a century ago.
- Other natural supplements for heart conditions include khella, rapeseed, and astragalus.
Arrhythmias are a serious condition and anyone who believes they may be suffering from arrhythmias should first consult a physician before starting any natural or alternative treatments on their own.
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