Every year, Scripps board-certified cardiac electrophysiologists diagnose and successfully treat thousands of patients with abnormal heart rhythms. Also known as heart arrhythmia, episodes of this dangerous condition often occur intermittently.
Scripps electrophysiologists work with your primary care physician, general cardiologist and medical colleagues across multiple specialties and sub-specialties to provide the best possible treatment options for all types of arrhythmias.
Common arrhythmia types are:
Learn more about arrhythmia symptoms, causes and treatment options below.
A heart arrhythmia is an electrical system malfunction of the heart related to its rhythm. It is characterized by an abnormal heart rhythm, notably in the pace and number of heartbeats.
Because heart arrhythmias are complex and may have underlying or contributing causes related to lifestyle choices, Scripps physicians strongly encourage and support patient education as part of the overall approach to addressing their health needs.
Our physicians believe self-education about the foundations of heart disease is beneficial to patients during the treatment and healing processes.
Scripps electrophysiologist Douglas Gibson, MD, discusses common heart rhythm topics, such as atrial fibrillation (AFib), heart murmurs and more.
Supraventricular tachycardia (SVT) is a group of heart arrhythmias that involve the top chambers of the heart (atria) and cause your heart to beat too fast (tachycardia). “Supra” means “above,” so supraventricular means “above the ventricles.”
Symptoms of SVT may include palpitations (sensations of a racing heart), lightheadedness, chest tightness, shortness of breath and fainting.
Types of supraventricular tachycardia include:
Atrial fibrillation, also called AFib, is a type of racing of the upper part of the heart (supraventricular tachycardia) caused by multiple abnormal electrical short circuits in the heart’s top left chamber (left atrium) just outside the pulmonary veins.
These abnormal electrical short circuits occur at a rate much faster than the sinus node rate, producing a heart rate of 100 or more beats per minute. Symptoms of atrial fibrillation may include heart palpitations (sensations of a racing heart), lightheadedness, chest tightness, shortness of breath and fainting.
Atrial flutter (heart flutter) is a type of arrhythmia. More specifically, it’s a type of supraventricular tachycardia caused by an abnormal electrical short circuit in the top chambers of the heart (atria). The short-circuiting results in a continual loop of electrical activation at a rate much faster than that of the sinus node (the body’s natural pacemaker), producing a heart rate often as fast as 150 beats per minute.
Symptoms may include heart palpitations (sensations of a racing heart), lightheadedness, chest tightness, shortness of breath and fainting.
Atrial tachycardia is a type of supraventricular tachycardia caused by the abnormal firing of a group of cells in one of the top chambers of the heart (atria). These cells fire at a higher rate than normal. The result is an unhealthy resting heartbeat of 100 beats per minute or higher. Symptoms may include heart palpitations (sensations of a racing heart), lightheadedness, chest tightness, shortness of breath and fainting.
Ventricular tachycardia (VT) is a type of cardiac arrhythmia caused by abnormal firing of a group of cells in one of the bottom chambers of the heart (ventricles). The cells fire at a higher rate than that of the sinus node in the top right chamber (atria), which causes the heart rate of 100 beats per minute or higher.
Premature ventricular contractions (PVC) occur when the heart’s ventricles disrupt the normal heart rhythm and beat out of sync: a normal heart beat, an extra beat, followed by a pause and then a strong beat. PVCs can happen randomly or at regular intervals.
PVCs can occur in healthy people and pose no risk. But those that happen frequently or over a prolonged period require care and attention from physicians who specialize in diagnosing and treating premature ventricular contractions, which can be caused by heart disease. They can also be related to a heart injury, chemical imbalances in the body, some asthma medications, alcohol, caffeine, exercise or a spike in adrenaline due to stress or anxiety.
Symptoms of PVCs may include palpitations, the feeling of a “skipped” heartbeat, fluttering sensations in the chest or neck, lightheadedness, shortness of breath and fainting if an episode is prolonged.
Ventricular fibrillation is the most serious type of heart arrhythmia and can result in sudden cardiac arrest, a life-threatening emergency that requires immediate medical attention.
During ventricular fibrillation (also known as V-Fib or VF) the heart’s electrical system becomes chaotic and disordered, causing the lower chambers (ventricles) to “flutter” instead of beating normally and pumping blood to the body.
Symptoms of VF may include palpitations (sensations of a racing heart), lightheadedness, chest tightness, shortness of breath, nausea and fainting.
Bradycardia (slow heart rate) is when the heart beats slower than it should. For many people (excluding those who are very physically fit), this can be fewer than 50-60 beats per minute and pose a danger of insufficient oxygen delivery to the body. Symptoms may include lightheadedness, chest tightness, shortness of breath and fainting.
Bradycardia can be related to two primary conditions:
- Sick sinus syndrome (or sinus node dysfunction) occurs when the heart’s group of cells (sinus node) that determines the heart rate becomes sluggish.
- Heart block is when the atrioventricular node (AV node) malfunctions and fails to provide a pathway for electrical impulses from the top chamber to bottom chamber.