What Is Dysrhythmia? - Definition, Symptoms & Treatment

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  • 0:00 Definition of Dysrhythmia
  • 0:43 Types of Cardiac Dysrhythmias
  • 4:54 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Artem Cheprasov

Artem has a doctor of veterinary medicine degree.

What is a dysrhythmia vs. an arrhythmia? What are the signs and symptoms of cardiac dysrhythmias? How can we treat the various types? This lesson answers all of these questions.

Definition of Dysrhythmia

If you're a dancer or a musician, you know that rhythm is important to keeping a song or dance going on cue. The same kind of concept applies to the heart. It has a certain rhythm to its heartbeat. If that rhythm is disturbed, we call it a dysrhythmia, also known as arrhythmia or irregular heartbeat, it's all the same.

The term dysrhythmia comes from Greek, with the word 'dys-', meaning 'bad' and '-rhythmia,' which implies 'rhythm.' While dysrhythmia can be a term applied to brainwaves, it's most often a term relating to heart rhythm.

Let's go over the main types of cardiac (heart) arrhythmias as well some likely symptoms of arrhythmias and common treatments thereof.

Types of Cardiac Dysrhythmias

There are four main kinds of cardiac arrhythmias (dysrhythmias). They are:

  1. Premature (extra) beats
  2. Supraventricular arrhythmias
  3. Ventricular arrhythmias
  4. Bradyarrhythmias

The most common type of arrhythmia is the premature beat, or extra beat. These usually do not cause a person any symptoms. However, if symptoms do arise, then the person experiencing premature beats may feel like their heart is fluttering in their chest or skipped a beat. Such arrhythmias usually do not require any treatment.

The next kind of arrhythmia is a supraventricular arrhythmia, which refers to a fast heart rate. It's commonly called a supraventricular tachycardia (SVT), although they're not exactly the same. The term SVT is kind of confusing so let's break it down first into some really simple concepts. Your heart has four main chambers. There are two upper, smaller, chambers called atria and two lower chambers, chambers called ventricles. If the arrhythmia arises in the electrical system of the heart that's above the, or supra-, the ventricles, it's called a supraventricular arrhythmia.

The term tachycardia, in supraventricular tachycardia, implies an abnormally fast rhythm. The word 'tachycardia' comes from 'tachy-,' meaning 'rapid,' and '-cardia,' which implies a heart action. So, we have a fast action of the heart (fast heart rate) arising from above the ventricles, a supraventricular tachycardia.

General signs and symptoms of SVT include the likes of:

  • Chest palpitations
  • Shortness of breath
  • Discomfort in the chest
  • Fatigue
  • Lightheadedness and fainting

Depending on how severe a person's signs and symptoms are, treatments for SVT will vary. Possible treatment options include drugs such as calcium channel blockers like verapamil, beta-blockers like sotalol, and cardiac glycosides such as digoxin.

Unlike SVT, ventricular arrhythmias arise in the ventricles, the two large, lower chambers of the heart. The most serious cardiac arrhythmia is a type of ventricular arrhythmia called ventricular fibrillation (v-fib, or VF), where the lower chambers just quiver instead of pump, preventing adequate blood flow.

Ventricular fibrillation may lead to:

  • Chest pain
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Shortness of breath
  • Loss of consciousness

V-fib is an emergency as it's the most common cause of sudden cardiac death. Emergency treatment for v-fib includes CPR and defibrillation, which is something that delivers a shock to the heart through the chest. The shock helps restore a normal rhythm to the heart.

To prevent v-fib from occurring again, anti-arrhythmic medication can be given, such as beta blockers, or an implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD) can be placed. An ICD monitors a person's heart rhythm and sends signals that pace the heart or reset the heart's rhythm altogether if necessary.

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