7 Symptoms of Irregular Heartbeat

The heart is one of the body’s most powerful organs. Inexhaustibly producing billions of beats over a lifetime, your heart serves the rest of the body by ensuring a constant flow of oxygen-rich blood to other vital organs (and itself, of course). The heart is divided into four chambers; the top two chambers are the right and left atria, and the bottom the right and left ventricles. Deoxygenated blood flows into the right side of the heart, out to the lungs to collect oxygen, then back through the left sided chambers to be pumped forcefully out into the body again.

Your heart’s rhythm is maintained by a series of coordinated electrical impulses, directed by highly specialized cells, that cause the top and bottom chambers of the heart to contract in one smooth motion. The repeating signal begins in the right atrium in an area known as the sinoatrial or SA node, and travels down the myocardium, resulting in your heartbeat. Due to a variety of factors, people can sometimes lose this rhythmic control and develop an irregular heartbeat, known as an “arrhythmia”. Arrhythmias may be benign and cause only mild symptoms, or can become serious or even deadly.

A number of symptoms accompany arrhythmias, and it’s important to learn what to look for if you feel you may be experiencing a rhythm disorder.

1. Chest pain

Also known as angina, chest pain is one of the most common reasons for emergency room utilization, accounting for up to ten million visits each year. While approximately half of these turn out to be related to non-cardiac causes, such as reflux disease, lung issues, or anxiety, the other half represent true cardiac emergencies.

Angina is often described as a dull throb or deep pressure over the left side of the chest. There are several causes for chest pain, generally divided into ischemic and nonischemic heart conditions. Ischemic heart disease is related to narrowing of the arteries due to plaque formation from coronary artery disease, a condition that results in a reduction of oxygen to the heart muscle. This type of chest pain is usually more apparent during exertion. Nonischemic heart disease is caused by other disorders, such as cardiac arrhythmias. People experiencing tachycardia (fast heartbeat) and some types of electrical disruptions often complain of angina.

Angina should never be ignored, especially if accompanied by other symptoms, such as dizziness, shortness of breath, radiating neck or back pain, or an irregular heart rhythm. These symptoms may indicate an imminent threat to your health and warrant a trip to the ER.