World Heart Rhythm Week is an annual event, which aims to raise awareness of the symptoms of heart arrhythmia in both the general public and medical profession
Arrhythmias are responsible for between 23,000 and 33,000 sudden cardiac arrest deaths each year. Many of these deaths could be avoided with greater public awareness of their risks and symptoms, which is where Heart Rhythm Week looks to make a difference.
An estimated 1.2 million (6%) Australian adults aged 18 years and over had 1 or more conditions related to heart or vascular disease, including stroke, in 2017–18, based on self-reported data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) 2017–18 National Health Survey.
What are heart arrhythmias?
Arrhythmia is a heart condition where your heart beats abnormally. It is caused by a problem with the electrical signals that coordinate heartbeats. The heart can beat too fast, too slow, or irregularly. Some people with heart arrhythmias have coronary heart disease underlying the problem.
Types of heart arrhythmias
Premature (extra) beats are the most common arrhythmia. Everybody gets these extra beats occasionally but most people don’t notice them. Some heart diseases can cause premature beats, but most of the time they are harmless. An increase in premature beats can happen because of stress, exertion from exercise, caffeine or nicotine.
Supraventricular arrhythmias are fast and often irregular heartbeats. The most common form is atrial fibrillation, where the top two chambers of the heart quiver instead of beating normally so the heart doesn’t pump blood as effectively.
Ventricular arrhythmias are irregular heartbeats that start in the lower part of the heart. These are more serious and require medical attention.
Bradyarrhythmias (also known as bradycardia) are where the heartbeat is too slow. In some cases, this may make a person feel dizzy and lose consciousness.
Heart arrythmia symptoms
Many people with heart arrhythmias have no symptoms at all. But you might become aware of your heat beat, which is known as having palpitations. You might feel:
- like your heart is skipping a beat
- like your heart is beating too hard or fast, which is known as having palpitations
- a racing heartbeat
- a slow heartbeat
- an irregular heartbeat
- a fluttering in your chest
- chest pain
- feeling lightheaded or dizzy
Ways to Keep Your Heart Healthy
If you have an arrhythmia, here are six do’s and don’ts for keeping your heart healthy.
1. DO monitor caffeine intake
If you love coffee or energy drinks, pay close attention to what—and how much—you put in your body.
Different things trigger arrhythmias in different people, so there is no end-all-be-all of what you can and can’t drink however, there are certain drinks that you need to be careful with.
For some people, coffee doesn’t do anything. For others, just one cup can cause an arrhythmia to flare up.
Unless you have an arrhythmia after one cup, you don’t need to give up coffee altogether. But it is recommended to stick to only one or two a day if you can.
As for energy drinks? They should be avoided. While a regular cup of coffee has about 100 mgs of caffeine, some energy drinks can have up to 242 mgs per serving (and with some drinks, there’s more than one serving per container). Energy drinks have also been shown to increase blood pressure and cause arrhythmias.
2. DON’T go overboard on alcohol
Alcohol is similar to caffeine—some people with arrhythmias can tolerate it, while others cannot. Limit your alcoholic drinks to one to two per night, and drink even less if your arrhythmia is caused by a weakened heart or previous heart attack.
It is especially important to monitor your alcohol intake if you have a certain kind of arrhythmia called atrial fibrillation, or A-Fib. Alcohol is known to cause A-Fib, and recent studies have shown that both binge drinking and moderate drinking can raise your risk for atrial fibrillation.
3. DO stay active
Exercising is always good for your heart, and a heart rhythm problem doesn’t need to stop you however, you do need to be extra careful. When you exercise, your body is pumped with adrenaline. Certain types of exercise really increase your adrenaline, and some arrhythmias get worse with too much adrenaline.
While the type of exercise you can do depends on your arrhythmia, the rule of thumb is to choose cardio over weightlifting. Anything where you have to lift weight can stress your heart. Instead, try cardio or yoga. Many patients find that yoga isn’t only safe if you have an arrhythmia—it can actually help prevent more arrhythmias. Talk to your doctor to come up with a plan that’s safest for you.
4. DO lose weight
One of the most important things you can do is lose extra weight. Being overweight or obese puts you at a higher risk for developing an arrhythmia or other heart problems.
But there is one way you do not want to lose weight: diet pills or similar products promising rapid weight loss. They can cause arrhythmias or many other problems that can even be fatal.
5. DON’T skimp out on sleep
The right amount of sleep helps prevent arrhythmias by lowering your stress level or making it easier to lose weight. It also keeps you from feeling fatigued, which can sometimes trigger an arrhythmia. Aim to get about seven to nine hours per night.
Getting enough sleep is even more important if you have sleep apnea—a disorder where your breathing is interrupted during sleep.
Sleep apnea puts stress on your heart and weakens the heart muscle, leading to arrhythmias like A-Fib. If you have sleep apnea, you need to see a specialist and get it treated. Even the best treatment with drugs or ablation is less likely to work completely if you don’t fix the sleep apnea, too.
6. DON’T ignore your arrhythmia – even if it’s benign
Your physician might tell you that your arrhythmia is harmless and doesn’t need to be treated. But that doesn’t mean that you won’t ever have symptoms.
Just having symptoms is reason alone to treat an arrhythmia, as they can be uncomfortable and affect your quality of life.
In addition to watching your diet, exercising and getting enough sleep, it is recommended to make several lifestyle changes to keep your arrhythmia in check:
- Don’t smoke.
- Talk to your physician before traveling somewhere at very high altitudes.
- Pay close to attention to what provokes your arrhythmia—and remember that it’s different for every person.
You can certainly live a happy, healthy life with an abnormal health rhythm. However, it’s always a good idea to check with your doctor when you’re experiencing new symptoms or discomfort.