Heart Rhythm Disorders (cont.)
Benjamin Wedro, MD, FACEP, FAAEM
Dr. Ben Wedro practices emergency medicine at Gundersen Clinic, a regional trauma center in La Crosse, Wisconsin. His background includes undergraduate and medical studies at the University of Alberta, a Family Practice internship at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario and residency training in Emergency Medicine at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center.
Daniel Lee Kulick, MD, FACC, FSCAI
Dr. Kulick received his undergraduate and medical degrees from the University of Southern California, School of Medicine. He performed his residency in internal medicine at the Harbor-University of California Los Angeles Medical Center and a fellowship in the section of cardiology at the Los Angeles County-University of Southern California Medical Center. He is board certified in Internal Medicine and Cardiology.
Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.
In this Article
- How does the heart work?
- Premature atrial contractions (PACs) and premature ventricular contractions (PVCs)
- Sinus tachycardia
- Sinus bradycardia
- Abnormal heart rhythms
- Ventricular fibrillation
- Ventricular flutter
- Paroxysmal supraventricular tachycardia (PSVT)
- Wolf-Parkinson-White Syndrome
- Atrial fibrillation
- Atrial Flutter
- Heart blocks
- When should I seek medical care?
- How are heart rhythm disorders diagnosed?
- What is the treatment for heart rhythm disorders?
- Can heart rhythm disorders be prevented?
- Find a local Cardiologist in your town
Premature atrial contractions (PACs) and premature ventricular contractions (PVCs)
Every person experiences the occasional palpitation in which the atrium or the ventricle beats early. These PACs (premature atrial contractions) or PVCs (premature ventricular contractions) are normal variations and most people are unaware of their occurrence, however, some patients report palpitations in the chest and neck. PACs and PVCs in healthy individuals generally do not pose any health risks.
The heart, its cells, and its electricity may come under many outside influences that may cause it to beat more quickly. Sinus tachycardia - (sinus=from the SA node + tachy=rapid + cardia + heart) or a rapid regular heartbeat - is a common rhythm issue. It occurs when the body asks the heart to pump more blood, or when the electrical system is stimulated by chemicals.
The body needs increased cardiac output in times of physiologic stress. Cardiac output is the amount of blood the heart pumps in the course of one minute. It can be calculated by the amount of blood that the heart pumps with each beat (stroke volume) multiplied by the heart rate.
Cardiac output = (stroke volume) X (heart rate)
The stroke volume tends to be relatively constant. When the body requires extra oxygen delivery, the heart rate needs to increase to meet that demand. Examples include:
- exercise, in which
the muscles have greater oxygen requirements and the heart rate speeds up to
pump more blood to meet that need;
- dehydration, in which there
is less fluid in the body and the heart rate has to speed up to compensate, or
- and in cases of acute bleeding that may occur as after an accident.
The electrical system can be stimulated in a variety of ways to make the heart beat faster. In times of stress, the body generates adrenaline, causing an increased heart rate in addition to other changes in the body. Think of being frightened and feeling your heart race. Increased thyroid hormone levels in the body can also cause a tachycardia. Ingestion of a variety of drugs can also cause the heart to race, including caffeine, alcohol, and over-the-counter cold medications that include chemicals such as phenylephrine. These compounds are metabolized by the body and act like an adrenaline stimulus to the heart. Illegal drugs like methamphetamine and cocaine can also cause a sinus tachycardia.
Next: Sinus bradycardia
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