A ventricular arrhythmia is an abnormal rhythm of the heart that originates from its lower chambers, called the ventricles. Abnormal heart rhythms, referred to as arrhythmias, are caused by issues with the electrical system that functions to regulate heartbeats at a steady pace.Under some circumstances, almost any area of the heart can generate an electrical impulse of the type that can initiate a heartbeat. This can potentially disrupt the regular rhythm of the heart.
Although these abnormal rhythms can occur in people with normal hearts, they usually happen as a result of damage to the heart muscle. Causes of ventricular arrhythmia can occur when the heart develops an irregular rhythm, normal electrical pathways are disrupted, or another part of the heart assumes the role of pacemaker. Other ventricular arrhythmia causes include:
• Various underlying heart conditions such as cardiomyopathy and coronary artery disease.
• Abnormal mineral levels in the blood, such as insufficient potassium or magnesium.
• Genetic predisposition.
• Toxins such as alcohol.
• Stimulants, including coffee and nicotine.
Ventricular arrhythmia is usually in reference to left ventricular arrhythmia. Conversely, right ventricular arrhythmia typically originates from the pulmonary artery, or the right ventricular outflow tract. Both left ventricular arrhythmia and right ventricular arrhythmia can be life-threatening.Generally, there are two types of ventricular arrhythmias: ventricular tachycardia and ventricular fibrillation. Both of these arrhythmias are often associated with heart attacks or the lingering effects of a previous heart attack.
Ventricular Tachycardia is a condition where the sinoatrial (SA) node, which functions as the heart’s natural pacemaker, no longer has control of the beating of the ventricles. Instead, the role of pacemaker is taken up by a different electrical pathway. The altered route of the signal results in the abnormal beat of the heart muscle. This leads to a rapid heart rate where you may feel as if your heart is skipping beats.
The rapid beating of the heart means that it does not have enough time to fill with blood before contracting, which results in an insufficient amount of blood being pumped throughout the body. Symptoms of ventricular tachycardia include dizziness, severe shortness of breath, light-headedness, fainting and cardiac arrest.
How life-threatening this type of arrhythmia is depends largely upon whether there are other heart problems at play and the rate of the ventricular tachycardia. Depending on how long ventricular arrhythmia symptoms last, patients may experience a sustained ventricular arrhythmia. When a ventricular tachycardia lasts for longer than 30 seconds or requires immediate cardioversion, it is referred to as a sustained ventricular arrhythmia.
Ventricular fibrillation is an uncontrolled irregular heartbeat. It is considered the most serious type of arrhythmia. Several electrical signals occurring at once from different locations in the heart result in a disorganized heartbeat that can reach 300 beats per minute. This, of course, means that very little blood is actually being pumped from the heart to the rest of the body. Because sudden cardiac arrest or even death can occur within a few minutes of this happening, immediate medical attention is necessary. People with a history of heart disease or heart attack are at the most risk for ventricular fibrillation.
Ventricular Arrhythmia Symptoms
In general, ventricular arrhythmia causes a wide spectrum of symptoms that can range from barely noticeable to unconsciousness. Ventricular arrhythmia causes some minor symptoms that include what may be felt as heart palpitations, a fluttering sensation,or the heart “skipping a beat.”
More serious ventricular arrhythmia symptoms include:
• Light-headedness/ dizziness
• Fainting (syncope)
• Rapid heartbeat
• Shortness of breath
• Chest pain
• Collapse and/or sudden cardiac arrest
Ventricular Arrhythmia Treatment
Ventricular arrhythmia is among the most dangerous of heart rhythm conditions. In the event that ventricular arrhythmia causes result in an episode of arrhythmia,there are various types of ventricular arrhythmia treatment available. Effective treatment options include long-term drug therapy, defibrillation and medical implants.
The drugs used to treat ventricular arrhythmia are similar to the type of drugs used to treat most heart problems. Anti-arrhythmic drugs such as beta blockers may be used to decrease blood pressure and heart rate. Drugs such as cardiac glycosides may also be employed to bring the heartbeat down closer to a normal rate. Although many of these drugs may treat ventricular arrhythmia symptoms, they do not resolve the underlying condition.
In emergency situations where the heart of a patient is in a state of fibrillation, characterized by a rapid and irregular series of contractions, defibrillators can be used to supply a large electric shock to the heart. The electric shock delivered to the heart serves to break the heart out of its dangerously irregular pattern. This ventricular arrhythmia treatment is used only in extreme cases where the patient’s life is in immediate danger. It is worth noting that in arrhythmia-induced cardiac arrest, CPR is necessary prior to fibrillation.
Medical implants are another form of treatment for ventricular arrhythmia. Particularly in the case of patients with previous heart damage, implants are required to help protect against ventricular arrhythmia symptoms. Implantable cardioverter defibrillators (ICDs) are the most common medical implants used for this condition. This device is attached to the heart using wires and when it senses an episode of ventricular arrhythmia, it automatically initiates an electric shock in an attempt to deter the episode from occurring. Although ICDs help keep patients alive, they require invasive surgery and extensive maintenance.
Another surgical procedure called catheter ablation uses an electrode catheter inserted from the groin to reach the heart. Radio waves are emitted by the device in order to destroy parts of the heart that are producing the arrhythmia.
Ventricular Arrhythmia Prevention
Recommendations for the prevention of ventricular arrhythmia are similar to that of most heart conditions. Because ventricular arrhythmia causes a host of problems, patients should consider making changes to their diet and/or lifestyle. This includes a low sodium and low cholesterol diet in order to maintain good blood circulation and keep blood pressure within the desired range to keep blood vessels clear from obstruction. A proper diet also ensures a sufficient balance of minerals and other chemicals in the body, the imbalance of which is known to trigger ventricular arrhythmia.
Any other existing heart conditions should be closely examined and addressed in order to prevent or reduce incidences of arrhythmia. Patients should also consult their doctor to ascertain the right level of physical activity for their situation.