Abnormal heart rhythm


Did you know that more than 2 million people experience arrhythmias or heart rhythm problems each year in the UK. Usually, patients with an abnormal heart rhythm can lead a normal life if it is properly diagnosed.

There are 5 main types of arrhythmia, these are:

  • Atrial fibrillation (AF) – this is the most common type of arrhythmia whereby the heart beats faster than normal and in an irregular fashion
  • Supraventricular tachycardia – episodes of abnormally fast resting heart rate
  • Bradycardia – a slower than normal heart rate
  • Heart block – a slower than normal heart rate which can lead to collapse
  • Ventricular fibrillation – a rare, rapid and disorganised rhythm of heartbeats that rapidly leads to loss of consciousness and can be fatal

People of all ages can be affected by arrhythmias, but atrial fibrillation is more common in older people.

Individuals who are more at risk of developing arrhythmias include:

  • Drinking excessive alcohol
  • Being significantly overweigh
  • Individuals with damaged heart tissue (due to illness such as heart attach or heart failure)

Did you know that having atrial fibrillation means your risk of stroke is 5 times higher than for someone whose heart rhythm is normal?

NHS UK: "Certain types of arrhythmia occur in people with severe heart conditions, and can cause sudden cardiac death. This kills 100,000 people in the UK every year. Some of these deaths could be avoided if the arrhythmias were diagnosed earlier".

Arrhythmia can be brought on by triggers, these can include:

  • Viral illnesses
  • Alcohol
  • Tobacco
  • Changes in posture
  • Exercise
  • Drinks containing caffeine
  • Certain over-the-counter and prescribed medicines
  • Illegal recreational drugs
  • Symptoms of arrhythmias include:
  • Palpitations
  • Feeling dizzy
  • Fainting
  • Shortness of breath

However, having these symptoms does not always mean you have a heart rhythm problem.

Arrhythmia Alliance's heart rhythm checklist can help you gather information to discuss with your GP if you have any of these symptoms.


If your symptoms persist, you're worried or there's a family history of cardiac problems, it's important for you to see a heart specialist (a cardiologist who specialises in heart rhythm disorders).

Arrhythmias are diagnosed with an electrical recording of your heart rhythm called anelectrocardiogram (ECG). If the ECG doesn't find a problem, you may need further monitoring of your heart.
If your symptoms seem to be triggered by exercise, a stress ECG may be needed to record your heart rhythm while you are using a treadmill or exercise bike. Sometimes a . echocardiogram (echo) – an ultrasound scan of your heart - may also be used for diagnosis.

Treatments for Arrhythmia

Treatment really depends on the cause and the type of the arrhythmia. Any underlying causes of your arrhythmia, such as heart failure, will need to be treated as well.
The treatments used for arrhythmias include:

  • Medication – to stop or prevent an arrhythmia or control the heart rate
  • DC Cardioversion – a treatment that uses electricity to shock the heart back into a normal rhythm while you are anaesthetised or sedated
  • Catheter ablation – a keyhole treatment under local or general anaesthetic that carefully destroys the diseased tissue in your heart that causes the arrhythmia
  • Pacemaker – a small device implanted in your chest which produces electrical signals to do the work of the natural pacemaker in your heart to help it beat at a normal rate
  • ICD – a device similar to a pacemaker that monitors your heart rhythm and shocks your heart back into a normal rhythm whenever this is needed