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Abnormal heart rhythms should be checked

What makes your heart race? An exciting game? A passionate kiss? A scary movie? For some people a racing heart, especially when it happens unexpectedly, may be the result of something more alarming…a heart arrhythmia.

"Arrhythmia is an irregular heartbeat, commonly described by patients as 'feeling like my heart is pounding out of my chest' or ''ike my heart is skipping beats.' There are different types of arrhythmias. Some are benign and not urgent, but some can be very serious and life threatening, especially if there's an underlying heart condition such as a prior heart attack," explains Gundersen cardiologist David Ludden, MD, who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of abnormal heart rhythms.

The anatomy of arrhythmia

Electrical impulses cause the heart to contract thereby pumping blood out to the body. Arrhythmias result when something goes wrong with this complex electrical system. Chaotic electrical impulses can slow the heart or cause the heart to race. Symptoms vary and include:

  • heart palpitations (racing, fluttering, irregular, thumping or faster-than-normal heartbeats)
  • chest pressure or pain
  • lightheadedness, dizziness or fainting
  • shortness of breath
  • fatigue

The causes of arrhythmia are also varied and, in some cases, unknown. The most concerning arrhythmias occur in patients with significant heart disease.

When to see a doctor

"If you have symptoms, a family history of arrhythmia or heart disease, you should discuss any irregular heart rhythms with your doctor or cardiologist," reports Dr. Ludden. "We offer several diagnostic tests and treatment options."

Dr. Ludden is optimistic: "If properly diagnosed, once-fatal or disabling cardiac arrhythmias can be managed or even cured."

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