Types and Causes of Irregular Heartbeats

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What is an Irregular Heartbeat

Minor fluctuations in a heartbeat are normal and occur in every individual. However, these fluctuations are typically short term occurrences and are the result of a specific cause such as strenuous activity, stressor caffeine consumption. When the irregular heartbeat becomes a long term occurrence, it is called arrhythmia or a dysrhythmia and can be a cause for concern. It is important to differentiate the causes and types of irregular heartbeats to know which ones are serious and which ones are not.

Types and Causes of Irregular Heartbeats in the Upper Heart

  • Premature atrial contractions, atrial fibrillation, and atrial flutters are extra heartbeats that happen in the upper chambers of the heart. According to the Medicine Net website, premature atrial contractions are not a cause for concern and are caused by a wide variety of reasons. However, atrial fibrillation and atrial flutters are more serious and are typically caused by existing heart disease or recent heart surgery.
  • Accessory pathway tachycardias and AV nodal reentrant tachycardia are rapid fluttering heartbeats that on the surface can resemble many of the above irregular heart beat conditions. However these irregularities are caused by extra pathways in the heart structure and must usually be corrected via medical procedures.

Types and Causes of Irregular Heartbeats in the Lower Heart

  • Premature ventricular contractions are another type of irregular heart beat that can occur in many people and are characterized by a skipped heartbeat. These are caused by stress and strenuous exercise as well as other lifestyle factors in many people. PVC can also be caused by heart disease if it occurs frequently. People with frequent PVC should seek medical treatment.
  • Ventricular fibrillation is the most serious of irregular heartbeats with no discernible heart beat pattern whatsoever. There are numerous causes of ventricular fibrillation which occurs just prior to death. This type of irregular heartbeat requires immediate medical attention and CPR.
  • Ventricular Tachycarida is a condition caused by fluctuations in the lower ventricles that radiates into the upper portions of the heart.
  • Paroxysmal supraventricular tachycardia (PSVT) is characterized by a regular heart beat pattern that is very fast. This type of irregular heartbeat is divided into two categories, accessory pathway tachycardias and AV nodal reentrant tachycardia. Accessory pathway tachycardias are caused by an extra connection in the heart that should not be present and AV nodal reentrant tachycardia is caused in the lower heart region and is far more serious sometimes resulting in death.

Extrasystole Heartbeats

Extrasystole, or an ectopic heartbeat, is another type of irregular heartbeat that occurs when there is a minor and rare fluctuation in a normal heart pattern. It includes an occasional missed beat, or the feeling that a heart beat is more forceful at times. These irregular heartbeats are typically not serious and are caused by a variety of common occurrences such as an electrolyte imbalance in the body, or by decreased blood supply to the heart from standing too quickly.


MedicineNet: Heart Disease and Abnormal Heart Rhythm (Arrhythmia)

University of Maryland Medical Center: Maryland Heart Center Arrhythmias