What are the symptoms of cardiac arrhythmia?
Symptoms of cardiac arrhythmia conditions depend on disease type, frequency and severity. Common symptoms of cardiac arrhythmias include:
- Sensation of fluttering the chest
- Rapid heartbeat
- Slow heartbeat
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath
How is cardiac arrhythmia diagnosed?
Several factors and test results are used to diagnose cardiac arrhythmia including personal and family medical histories, physical examination, and results of various tests. These conditions may be diagnosed by the primary care physician or specialists such as cardiologists or electrophysiologists (cardiologists specialized in arrhythmias). Diagnostic tests include
Electrocardiogram (EKG, ECG)
An EKG is a non-invasive test to record the heart’s electrical activity. It shows the speed and rhythm at which the heart is beating and the strength and timing of the electrical signals in the heart. A standard EKG records the heart beat for a few seconds. An irregular heartbeat can only be detected while the heartbeat is being recorded. Thus, to detect infrequent episodes of AF, portable EKGs are often used. These include Holter and Event Monitors.
A Holter monitor records electrical activity for 1 to 2 days continuously. It involves where electrodes on the chest that are connected to a portable recorder that can be worn around the neck or on a belt. In the case of event monitors, they only record electrical activity when they are turned on by the user (usually when the symptoms are occurring). However, some event monitors can recognize the symptoms and turn on automatically. Event monitors can be worn for weeks.
For detection of cardiac arrhythmia symptoms that are more prominent when the heart is working harder, a stress test may be given. The test involves increasing the work of the heart through exercise such as walking on a treadmill or using a pedal bike. Heart tests are then conducted during the exercise. For individuals that cannot exercise, they may be given medication to make their heart beat harder.
To identify low blood flow, abnormal heart contraction, and heart damage caused by low blood flow, an echocardiography (also known as echo or transthoracic echocardiography) may be given. A transducer is moved across the chest emitting sound waves through the chest wall to the heart. The sound waves bounce off structures of the heart which the computer converts into an image of a moving image of the heart. This image reveals the size and shape of the heart and how the chambers of the heart are working.
Similar to echco, transesophageal echo or TEE, uses sound waves to take pictures of the heart. However, it takes these images through the esophagus, the tube connecting the mouth to the stomach. Because the atria can be difficult to see with echo, TEE may be used instead to get a better image. During this test, a transducer is placed on the end of a tube that is passed down the throat into the esophagus. TEE is primarily used to detect blood clots in the atria.
This test is done to evaluate the electrical activity of the heart in order to locate the origin of the arrhythmia. The test is done by threading catheters, followed by wires, through blood vessels to different locations in the heart to determine exactly where the abnormality is located.
Chest X Ray
In order to detect fluid build-up in specific organs in the chest such as the heart and lungs, a chest x ray may be given. Fluid buildup in the lungs is a common sign of A Fib.
Because some arrhythmia conditions may be due to abnormal levels of thyroid hormone, blood tests are often given to verify hormone levels as well as electrolyte concentrations.
Coronary catheterization is performed to determine whether the coronary arteries are blocked. A dye is injected into a catheter that is threaded through a blood vessel to the heart. The dye makes the arteries visible when using an X-ray so that any blockages or narrowing can be seen.