In normal adults, the heart beats at a regular rate of 60-100 beats per minute, with each beat having the same intensity. This orderly contraction of the heart is controlled by a sequence of electrical impulses that are initiated from the heart’s natural pacemaker called the sinus node. An arrhythmia is a condition where these electrical impulses don’t function properly, and as a result, the heart may beat with an irregular rhythm or beat at an irregular rate. Many arrhythmias are triggered or caused by underlying conditions or risk factors including coronary artery disease, age, diet, obesity, sleep apnea, drugs, stress, anxiety, and an abnormal heart valve. Even though many of these conditions can be controlled, there is often no obvious cause to an arrhythmia.
Cardiac arrhythmias are typically categorized by where the abnormal activity is occurring as well as its effect on the heart. Bradycardia indicates an abnormally slow heart rate while tachycardia is an abnormally fast heart rate. Common simple arrhythmias include atrial tachycardia and atrial flutter, but the most common complex arrhythmia is atrial fibrillation or Afib.
Occasionally, an asymptomatic arrhythmia can be discovered by listening to the heart with a stethoscope. However, unless the arrhythmia occurs during the actual exam, it will most likely go undetected. A noninvasive test called an electrocardiogram or ECG, measures the electrical activity of the heart and is the most common test used to diagnose an arrhythmia. Another noninvasive test frequently used to diagnose an arrhythmia is called an echocardiogram. An echocardiogram utilizes ultrasound waves to create an image of the heart as well as the heart’s electrical activity. The source of an arrhythmia can also be directly identified with an electrophysiology procedure that maps the heart’s electrical activity. The Topera Physiologic Rotor Mapping Solution identifies the abnormal electrical activity responsible for complex heart arrhythmias.