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What are the Common Causes of an Irregular Heart Rate?

By Brandon May
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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An irregular heart rate, also known as an arrhythmia, can be caused by electrolyte imbalance, injury from a heart attack, or could even be a sign of coronary heart disease. With an irregular heart rate, the heart sometimes beats more slowly or more quickly than normal. Lifestyle changes, such as quitting smoking or other stimulants like caffeine, are usually suggested to help reverse this condition. Anti-arrhythmic drugs and anticoagulants are usually prescribed as medical interventions which may help bring the heart rate back into a normal range.

A normal heart rate is a sign that the cardiac muscle is functioning properly, and oxygen and nutrients are being transported throughout the body. An irregular heart rate, however, disrupts blood flow slightly by producing sporadic increases and decreases in the speed of the contraction and relaxation of the muscle. In many cases, particularly for athletes or individuals who exercise regularly without the proper intake of water or other nutrients, arrhythmia is related to an electrolyte imbalance. The appropriate replacement of electrolytes during exercise can relieve this problem.

Those who recently suffered a heart attack or stroke may have an irregular heart rate. With treatment for these conditions, this irregularity should decrease gradually over time. When it continues, however, medical treatments may be necessary to bring the heart rate back into a normal range.

If an individual does not have a history of heart disease or suffer from problems with electrolyte imbalance, then an irregular heart rate might be a sign of future heart trouble. Coronary artery disease is a common cause of heart palpitations, or the skipping of a heart beat, and arrhythmia. An irregular heart rate in an otherwise apparently normal individual should be checked out by a physician so that potential problems can be caught early.

Lifestyle changes, such as a healthy diet and exercise program, can help improve heart health and the strength and rhythm of contraction and relaxation. Avoiding stimulants such as caffeine and nicotine can also help ease symptoms of an irregular heart rate. Anti-arrhythmia and anticoagulant medications can help bring back heart rate to normal, healthy ranges for most individuals. A pacemaker is sometimes used in some cases when other methods fail; these devices send electrical impulses to the heart to help it beat at a normal rate.

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Discussion Comments
By literally45 — On Jul 20, 2014

I know someone who has a pacemaker. He said that before the pacemaker, he had chronic arrhythmia and nothing worked. Now he seems fine, healthy and happy.

By candyquilt — On Jul 20, 2014

@fify-- I agree with your comment about stress. Anxiety and panic can actually cause temporary irregular heart rate. In fact, people with high blood pressure or another cardiac issue may think that they are having a heart attack because of anxiety and panic.

Of course, it's impossible to know whether this is psychological or real without seeing a doctor about it. So I'm not suggesting that people should brush off their symptoms. I'm just saying that if an individual has a tendency to panic and worsen their heart issues, then they might benefit from seeing a psychologist or therapist as well. Heart attack is a serious worry for many people with high blood pressure and irregular heart rate. But it doesn't have to be.

By fify — On Jul 19, 2014

Those with hypertension or high blood pressure may experience irregular heart rate from time to time. It's a sign that high blood pressure is not under control properly. Some people also experience these symptoms if they experience a lot of stress or some kind of trauma.

My husband has high blood pressure. A few months ago, he started experiencing tachycardia. He had an angiografy done and thankfully none of his arteries were blocked. But his medications were not working well for him. The doctor switched one of his medications to something else. The tachycardia disappeared afterward.

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