Abnormal heart rhythms
An abnormal heart rhythm
– sometimes called an
arrhythmia – means your heart is beating too
fast, too slow, or with an irregular pattern.
Your heart has an electrical system that tells it when to beat
and push blood around the body. If there is a problem with
this system you may experience an abnormal heart rhythm.
How does the heart's electrical
- The sinus node is a
special group of cells in your heart, also known as your
heart’s natural pacemaker.
- The sinus
node sends an electrical signal to the chambers of your
heart, which tells them when to contract and push blood through
- If your heart is working
properly, the electrical signal will travel from the sinus node to
the top chambers of your heart (atria) and then on
to the lower chambers (ventricles).
- The normal electrical pattern
of your heart is known as sinus rhythm. A normal
sinus rhythm will generally cause your heart to beat between 60 to
100 beats per minute (bpm) when you’re resting.
My heart rate sometimes feels different. Is this a
It's normal for your heart to beat at different rates during the
day. It will be slower when you're at rest but may be faster when
you are physically active such as when you are gardening, walking
briskly, or running. Your heart rate might also be faster if you
are anxious or excited.
You may experience a sensation of feeling your heart
beating whether it is beating normally, quickly, slowly or
irregularly. Some people describe them as feeling that your heart
is pounding or fluttering. These sensations are called
palpitations. For most people,
although palpitations can feel unpleasant, they’re usually
harmless and do not mean anything is wrong with your
might also feel that your heart has missed or 'skipped' a beat or
there has been an extra beat. An extra beat is called
beat. Ectopic beats are very common and are usually
harmless and do not need any treatment.
If you are concerned about palpitations or ectopic beats, you
should speak to your doctor who will be able to do an ECG to assess your heart rate and the
What are the different types of abnormal heart rhythm?
There are many different types of abnormal heart
rhythm. What type you have depends on where in your heart the
rhythm (electrical impulse) starts, and whether it causes your
heart to beat too fast, or too slow. The most common abnormal
rhythm is atrial fibrillation.
- Fast heart rhythms such as supraventricular tachycardia (SVT),
inappropriate sinus tachycardia, atrial flutter,
atrial fibrillation (AF), ventricular tachycardia (VT) and
ventricular fibrillation (VF) are known as
- Slow heart rhythms such as AV heart block, bundle branch block
and tachybrady syndrome are called
To find out more about these conditions and their treatment,
download or order our booklet
What causes an abnormal heart rhythm or arrhythmia?
There are lots of reasons why you may have a different heart
rhythm. Common reasons are:
- The electrical impulses are coming from another part of the
heart and not the sinus node.
- The electrical impulses are coming from the sinus
node, but going to the lower chambers of the heart by
an unusual path.
What are the tests and treatments for abnormal heart
Depending on your symptoms, your doctor might
recommend that you undergo an ECG,
electrophysiological (EP) study to
help diagnose an abnormal heart rhythm.
Depending on the type of abnormal heart
rhythm, your doctor may recommend using medication to stop, prevent
or control it. Alternatively, they might suggest suggest a
procedure such as cardioversion
ablation, or surgery to insert an
implantable cardioverter defibrillator or pacemaker.
Find out more
Researching abnormal heart
Your donations fund vital research into the causes and
treatment of heart conditions, including the work of BHF
Barbara Casadei, who is pioneering work to improve our
understanding of atrial fibrillation, the most
common arrhythmia in the UK.