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What are Heart Rhythm Disorders (Arrhythmias)?

Arrhythmia is an irregular heartbeat. There are different types of arrhythmias or heart rhythm disorders—some are benign and not urgent, but some can be very serious and even life threatening, especially if there's an underlying heart condition.

Symptoms vary from mild to severe, and may last a few seconds or several hours, occur years apart or have several in one week. The causes of arrhythmia are also varied and, in some cases, unknown. Arrhythmias can be triggered by physical or emotional stress, infection or fever. Medical conditions such as high blood pressure, anemia, diabetes or an overactive thyroid can also lead to arrhythmia, as can stimulants such as caffeine, tobacco, alcohol and drugs. It can also be an inherited condition or result from a birth defect.

Because arrhythmias can be very unpredictable, you should seek medical help and, if necessary, the advice of a specialist if you have symptoms, a family history of arrhythmia or significant heart disease.

Treatments we offer for arrhythmia

Gundersen offers electrophysiology services to help determine if you are at high risk for sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) or cardiovascular disease. Electrophysiology can help diagnose once-fatal cardiac arrhythmias so they can be managed or even cured.

Depending on the frequency and severity of your symptoms, underlying medical conditions and your age, treatment might be medication or an interventional procedure.


Cardioversion is used to treat fast or irregular heart rhythms such as atrial fibrillation (AFib) and atrial flutter. A defibrillator is implanted which can send electrical energy or shock to your heart to restore the normal heart rhythm. You are under anesthesia for a brief time and are closely monitored.

Catheter ablation

Catheter ablation treats atrial fibrillation, a rapid and/or irregular rhythm by destroying very small, very specific areas of abnormal heart tissue responsible for conducting the irregular electrical impulses. A catheter delivers high-intensity, focused radio-frequency or microwave energy on a precise area of heart tissue without impacting surrounding tissue or blood vessels.

Temporary pacemaker

A temporary pacemaker may be necessary for short term-treatment of a slow heart rate which is causing symptoms such as dizziness or a drop in blood pressure. The pacing catheter is advanced into the heart and programmed to stimulate the heart to beat at a more regular rhythm. In some cases this temporary measure precedes the implant of a permanent pacemaker.

Permanent pacemaker

A permanent pacemaker, about the size of a half dollar, is implanted into your upper chest in a minimally invasive procedure. Attached wires are fed through a large blood vessel into your heart. The pacemakers provide a reliable heartbeat when your heart's own rhythm is too slow or irregular. Gundersen also offers the world's smallest pacemaker for those who need single-chamber heart pacing.

Automatic implantable cardiac defibrillator (AICD)

Automatic implantable cardiac defibrillator implanted in your chest may be an option if you are at risk for sudden cardiac arrest. This device, much like a pacemaker, only slightly larger, senses dangerous heartbeats and then delivers a shock to the heart to return it to a normal rhythm.

Why choose Gundersen?

  • Experience - Gundersen has the largest and most comprehensive heart program in the Tri-State Region, providing a full range of exceptional heart care for patients of all ages.
  • World renowned heart specialists - We have electrophysiologists—heart specialists specially trained to treat heart rhythm problems. In addition, our heart surgeons are skilled in a variety of procedures, including minimally invasive procedures, to treat arrhythmia.
  • Cardiac rehab and exercise programs - Gundersen's Exercise Physiology team helps you after heart surgery, heart attack or other heart problems. Cardiac rehab includes medically supervised activity, ongoing monitoring, and education about risk factor modification and a heart-healthy lifestyle. With this combination of exercise, education and socialization we can help you achieve and maintain your highest level of function, health and independence.
  • Outreach and telemedicine services - Gundersen heart specialists provide cardiology and cardiothoracic surgery services closer to home for many patients via telemedicine and outreach in a dozen different locations throughout our service area.
  • Research and clinical trials - Dedicated to continually improving care, our heart specialists participate in national and international research studies. We also participate in many clinical trials giving you access to cutting-edge treatments.
  • Diagnostic, testing and imaging services - Gundersen offers a variety of state-of-the-art services to help diagnose, evaluate, treat and monitor your heart rhythm problems, such as:
what to expect

We've taken steps at all our locations to keep you and our staff healthy and safe. Here's what to expect when you visit us.

Stay safe