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Arrhythmia / Sudden Death Risk

Arrhythmia, in simple terms, is an irregular heartbeat. This means your heart is not beating in a regular manner. These irregular rhythms can feel like the heart is beating slower, faster or irregular pace than usual. In addition to many external factors that can cause arrhythmia, it can also be genetic or could run in families. Some studies stated that if a parent has this condition, there is a 50 % chance that their child could inherit it from them.

Arrhythmia and the resultant disruption in the electrical signals in the heart, is responsible for sudden cardiac deaths in people under 30. Worldwide, sudden deaths due to arrhythmia accounts 15-20% of all deaths.

Types of Arrhythmia

There are different types of arrhythmias depending on the heart rate. Majorly, they are grouped into two:

  • Tachycardia is a fast heart, with the resting heart rate greater than 100 beats/min
  • Bradycardia is a slow heartbeat, with the resting heart rate less than 60 beats/min

Symptoms of Arrhythmia

Arrhythmias are not identifiable on their own in general, however, when a healthcare provider examines you, they may find the following symptoms, such as:

A slow or fast heartbeat

Shortness of breath

‘Fluttering’ feeling in the chest

Chest pain

Other symptoms include:

Anxiety

Fatigue

Sweating

Light headedness or fainting

Causes of Arrhythmia

The following factors may increase the risk of arrythmia:

  • Existing heart conditions
  • A history of heart attack
  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes
  • Thyroid gland dysfunction
  • Sleep apnea
  • Certain viral infections
  • Substance abuse
  • Smoking
  • Caffeine addiction
  • Stress or anxiety

Diagnosis and Treatment

Diagnosis is performed using various diagnostic tools such as electrocardiogram (ECG), or echocardiogram, etc. to confirm an irregular heart rhythm, which can help understand that the cause for it.

The treatment depends on which type of arrhythmia has been discovered and its causative factor. Depending on the severity of the symptom, few do not require medications, some are treated with medications, and others may require a combination of therapies, cardioversion, catheter procedures or heart surgery.

FAQ's :

Arrhythmias may or may not be inherited.  Some forms of arrhythmias are inheritable whereas the other types can be secondary to an underlying risk factor.

Most inheritable arrhythmias are autosomal dominant.  Some arrhythmias are autosomal recessive that can cause Long QT syndrome, for example. Genes KCNQ1 and KCNE1 are linked to rarer types of long QT syndrome. (Autosomal dominant genes, Autosomal recessive genes – these are mutated genes that are passed down from parent to a child, of whom the former one has 50% chance of being inherited)

Yes, there are clinically available genetic testing for arrhythmia. These are used to confirm the diagnosis when the arrythmias are caused by u explained factors, or predict the risk of complications in a person.

Diet cannot help treating arrhythmia, but it can definitely make the provided treatment more effective by reducing the risk factors. It is recommended to avoid caffeine, sugary foods or drinks, more salt intake, red meats, and alcohol.

References:

  1. Sudden death in young people: Heart problems often blamed. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/sudden-cardiac-arrest/in-depth/sudden-death/art-20047571 Accessed on 20-05-2022
  2. Sudden Cardiac Death (Sudden Cardiac Arrest) Cleveland Clinic. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/17522-sudden-cardiac-death-sudden-cardiac-arrest Accessed on 20-05-2022
  3. Sudden cardiac arrest. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/sudden-cardiac-arrest/symptoms-causes/syc-20350634 Accessed on 20-05-2022
  4. Heart arrhythmia. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/heart-arrhythmia/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20350674 Accessed on 20-05-2022
  5. Arrhythmia: Types. Stanford Health Care. https://stanfordhealthcare.org/medical-conditions/blood-heart-circulation/arrhythmia/types.html Accessed on 20-05-2022

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