Heart Rhythm Disorders

Heart rhythm disorders, also known as arrhythmia, are problems with the electrical pulses that make your heart beat in an abnormal rhythm.

The most common types of arrhythmia are:

  • Bradycardia: A heartbeat that is too slow
  • Tachycardia: A heartbeat that is too fast
  • Atrial fibrillation (AFib): A quivering, irregular heart beat

Arrhythmias can vary from harmless to catastrophic. If the heart is not able to pump enough blood to the brain, heart and other organs, it can increase the risk of heart failure, stroke or cardiac arrest.

Virginia Mason is a regional referral center for the Pacific Northwest because of our outstanding care for people with arrhythmias.

Risk Factors for Arrhythmias

Arrhythmias — especially atrial fibrillation — are common in older adults and people who have weakened hearts from:

  • Heart attack
  • Heart failure
  • Heart valve issues
  • High blood pressure
  • Coronary artery disease
  • Sleep apnea

Contributing lifestyle factors can include:

  • Smoking
  • Heavy alcohol use
  • Drugs that increase the heart rate, including cocaine or amphetamines
  • Too much caffeine
  • Ongoing emotional stress or anger

Some types of arrhythmias, such as Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome, are more common among young people and may be inherited.

Arrhythmia Symptoms

Common symptoms of arrhythmia include feeling that your heart is skipping a beat, fluttering, beating too slowly or beating too hard or too fast.

More serious signs and symptoms include:

  • Anxiety
  • Weakness, dizziness and light-headedness
  • Fainting or nearly fainting
  • Sweating
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain

Some arrhythmias cause only occasional symptoms — or none at all. Symptoms often dictate how aggressively arrhythmias are treated. It may still be important to monitor these arrhythmias, even if they are not currently causing symptoms.

Diagnosing Arrhythmias

Electrophysiology (EP) is a cardiology specialty that focuses on diagnosing and treating serious arrhythmias.

At Virginia Mason, board-certified electrophysiologists who are experts in bradycardia, tachycardia, atrial fibrillation and other arrhythmias, lead our electrophysiology team. They perform a variety of procedures in our sophisticated electrophysiology labs.

The electrophysiology studies done in an EP lab allow our doctors to record the heart’s electrical signals and study their patterns.

An EP study is comprehensive, but minimally invasive. It involves inserting a thin, flexible wire into a vein in your groin and guiding it into the heart. Various tests can be performed to help determine what treatments will be most effective.

Treating Arrhythmias

Treatment for arrhythmias depends on how often you have symptoms, how severe they are and whether you already have heart disease. Our electrophysiologists are highly trained and experienced in all types of rhythm disorders, and have years of experience in:

Why Virginia Mason?

Virginia Mason is recognized as one of the best health care facilities in the nation for cardiology. We are dedicated to providing exceptional care to each person at every moment.

Our electrophysiology team is among the most experienced in the state. We perform more than 1,800 electrophysiology tests and ablations each year, and implant more than 450 cardiac devices.

Virginia Mason was the first in the Northwest to offer cryoballon ablation for treating atrial fibrillation. Our patient outcomes meet or exceed national standards and complication rates are lower than national standards.

To learn more about arrhythmias or to schedule an appointment with our team, call (206) 341-1111.