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What is Cardiac Dysrhythmia?

By J. Beam
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Sometimes referred to as cardiac arrhythmia, cardiac dysrhythmia is the accurate medical term for an irregular or abnormal heart rate. It occurs when the average adult heart rate falls below or rises above the normal range of 60 to 100 beats per minute. An irregular heartbeat can be life threatening.

When the heart rate drops below 60 beats per minute, this condition is known as bradycardia. This is generally not a life threatening form of dysrhythmia, but it can cause aggravating symptoms. If symptoms are persistent, it may be treated by implanting a pacemaker.

The opposite spectrum is when the heart rate rises above 100 beats per minute. This condition is called tachycardia. Tachycardia occurs when the electrical impulses controlling the heartbeat become abnormally fast. Exercise, stress, adrenaline, and stimulant sources such as caffeine can cause this condition. Generally, tachycardia is not life threatening unless it becomes so fast it causes blood pressure to drop and interferes with the pumping action of the heart.

Fibrillation is a form of cardiac dysrhythmia that can be fatal. It occurs when the heart begins quivering rather than the normal, healthy pumping rhythm. This problem can effect the atrium or the ventricle. Atrial fibrillation is an irregular quivering of the upper chambers of the heart and can indicate a problem with the organ. Though this problem is not necessarily immediately life threatening, the condition should be evaluated by a medical professional.

Ventricular fibrillation affects the lower chambers of the heart. This form poses an immediate risk of death, as the heart stops pumping blood effectively. Ventricular fibrillation is a form of cardiac arrest and is always a medical emergency that responds only to cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and defibrillation to restore the heart to more normal pumping.

Though some forms of cardiac dysrhythmia are not emergency situations, any form requires medical attention. Even dysrhythmias that are not emergency situations can be indicators of a more serious underlying cause and should be evaluated by a healthcare professional. Symptoms can often be felt through a change in heart rate or pulse, and dysrhythmia can sometimes be discovered during routine physical examines, but the only way to determine a specific diagnosis and assessment of heart rhythm is with an electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG).

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Discussion Comments
By anon329797 — On Apr 11, 2013

My father died from this in February 2013. He had a routine surgery, was rushed in and out of the hospital (because of course the hospital won't keep anyone who was cut up and put under general anesthesia for more than 45 minutes after your surgery - in and out - time is money!) and he had shortness of breath in the days following the surgery.

We were not given any feedback from his doctors that the shortness of breath was abnormal. It happened so fast and he was gone. Always question your doctors and get first, second and third opinions.

We leave too much to these so called "experts." They are merely humans with a title and they certainly make mistakes all the time. Be your own doctor. My dad was my favorite person in the world. Sometimes I forget he is gone and I think I can still pick up the phone and call him. I love you, daddy.

By anon243834 — On Jan 30, 2012

In November, I received the phone call in morning. It was from the hospital. My father was gone forever. The brave man succumbed to bradycardia. Just a week before that, he had undergone a major angioplasty with four stents for a blockage of greater than 95 percent. He was implanted with an ICD just three months before died at the age of only 56. He was a diabetic and an ischemic heart patient and breathed his last. I would request people who suffer with the smallest symptoms of any discomfort, please go to the doctor. Do not lose out and please get opinions from more than one doctor.

Love you and miss you forever, Dad.

By anon122519 — On Oct 28, 2010

I was diagnosed with this a year ago by a fluke when I went to see a different Dr. than my own for neck pain. He heard irregular beats and sent me to a cardiologist. I had dysrhythmia associated with HCM and an ablation was done. It is hereditary.

I told my aunt and mother to go to the doctor to get it checked out because their father died at 59 with heart failure. My mom and aunt both had the same thing. My aunt passed away six weeks ago because of this and her doctor told her days before she was OK. I miss her and tell everyone do not take these things lightly.

By anon78048 — On Apr 16, 2010

My best friend passed away in March from this. He never complained about anything being wrong. They said he just put his arms on his desk, laid his head down, and made what seemed to be a sigh. He was gone that fast. He had high blood pressure and was always on the go. He thought more of helping other than himself. Who knew this would happen?

By anon75947 — On Apr 08, 2010

just got back autopsy report cardiac arrhythmia from cardiomegaly. Why does this not show on an EKG pre op to shoulder surgery? --Todd's wife

By anon74020 — On Mar 30, 2010

We just received the Forensic papers back on my sister's death. She had just come home from the hospital after a knee surgery. Three days after being home she died. The tests show she had Cardiac Arrhythmia and Cardiomegaly. She was only 48, and was otherwise in good health.

This is nothing to wait on. If you have this problem, get it checked, even if the doctors say it is OK, and that many people have irregular heartbeats. It can and does cause death.

Be safe, not sorry! Especially in women, as sometimes the symptoms are hard to note.

By anon71142 — On Mar 17, 2010

My daughter was 33. She had four daughters that I am now raising. My daughter had complained on many occasions of her heart beating fast and had been to the doctors and ER. She told me once that her doctor had told her if she did not learn to relax that stress would kill her.

I don't understand why nothing more was done, like having her wear a heart monitor.

In April, 2008, I called my daughter's house and was told that paramedics were there trying to save my daughter's life,but it was too late.

My hardest job was to tell her four girls, ages 3, 9, 11 and 13 at that time, that their mother had died.

By h3ll0ash13 — On Jul 15, 2009

my son, now 7, was a very sick infant. he couldn't keep his formula down. we took him to many doctors - one even suggested adding rice cereal to his bottle until it was like pudding. nothing worked! then, finally, one doctor did an ekg (she didn't really know what to think, she did several tests that day, and thankfully one was the ekg). he was 6 weeks old - and had a pulse of 275! he was in heart failure, and his liver was dropping. he was flown to the nearest pediatric hospital (about an hour away) immediately. we were told he has svt (supraventricular tachycardia), and had been in this irregular pattern for a while. after his heart started beating normally (and a week in picu), he finally started eating normally and growing! he's not had any problems with it since then, but now, it's showing again. he just had a hotler monitor done today for dysrhythmia. it's a lot to take in, but any new parent should suggest an ekg if their infant isn't acting right - it could easily save their lives! it saved my son, and i'm ever so thankful!

By daz123 — On Jun 18, 2009

On 9/4/06 my husband awakened in the early morning he was gasping for breath, he said he was OK but it felt like something was choking him. That whole day he kept talking about it as we took our daughter back to college. My sister told him he should get it checked because it could have been a mini heart attack or something. He made an appointment they gave him 10/10 I later found out when it was too late that he canceled. He had his own business and he worked around the clock. On the early morning of 10/21 he awakened the same way, only this time I called paramedics and had to do cpr until they got there. They rushed him to the hospital, when I got there they said that he didn't make it. His father died at 38 of a heart condition he never knew exactly what, my husband was 7yrs old and we also have a 10yr old daughter who was 7yrs when she lost her dad. He was a great hardworking and loving person. We all miss him dearly.

By WJNuckolls — On Mar 02, 2009

My 27 year old son Andy died on 9/11/08. Our family recently found out that the cause was Cardiac Dysrhythmia. He was a Marine and had shown no symptoms until Christmas 2007. He was spending Christmas with his 4 year old daughter and his estranged wife trying to put his family back together again. He lived for them. He had symptoms and went to a Patient First where they did an EKG and suggested that it was SVT and that he should see a heart specialist. He didn't, nor did he tell anyone other than his wife about the diagnosis.

He lived with his mother and me until he died. I know that once while cutting grass that he said his heart was about to beat out of his chest. I said that he had better get it checked out, but I did nothing more.

Since his death, I have been told of several instances where, with friends, this heart problem manifested and he would have to lay down until it pasted. I wish I had known at the time.

On Thursday, September 11, 2008, we all got home and ate dinner and Andy went out to play softball with friends. Later that night we received the phone call that no parent should have to receive.

Now that months have passed, I realize how many people (myself included) could have saved Andy if any one of us had just called an ambulance, rather than just "let him go lay down for a while".

I've learned that no heart problem is minor and should receive attention. If I had only known the whole story...

Andy, your mother, brothers, sister, family, friends, and I will miss you forever and I pray that we can be together again someday.

We love and miss you so much.


By anon26252 — On Feb 10, 2009

My 27 year old, younger brother died on 9/11/2008 from this. We received cause of death 5 days ago. He brushed off an EKG when a doctor who told him that he possibly had SVT and to get checked out; he never went to a doctor. I miss him so much.

By anon15000 — On Jun 29, 2008

A kid in my graduating class died on the practice football field our junior year. he just collapsed and even when cpr was given by his father, the football coach, nothing could be done. This is definitely what he died from! i miss him a lot.

By mlr4bk07 — On Mar 22, 2008

Cardia Dysrythmia is the known cause of death of my brother at age 35. He was a very healthy young man.

By anon7095 — On Jan 17, 2008

cardiac dysrhythmia is what caused my mother to pass away last year.

By anon6069 — On Dec 14, 2007

My father had the same thing happen to him, 3 weeks after angioplasty. Could too much dye have caused this?

By anon1487 — On May 31, 2007

I nearly died from cardiac dysrythmia caused by my kidneys nearly shutting down after an angioeplasty where apparently too much dye was used. Thankfully I was at the Cleveland Clinic and they induced a coma and brought me out after 10 days. I had a defibulator pacemaker already and it fired 14 times (I remember 6 or 8) and they had to use their defibulator twice I am told. Was in intensive care 3 weeks, in the hospital a month & a half. I am only 55. I am certain I would have died without the defibulator and the Cleveland Clinic.

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