Medically reviewed on March 17, 2023 by Jordan Stachel, M.S., RDN, CPT. To give you technically accurate, evidence-based information, content published on the Everlywell blog is reviewed by credentialed professionals with expertise in medical and bioscience fields.
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If you’ve ever felt like your heart is beating erratically, you may have asked yourself, “When should I be worried about an irregular heartbeat?”
If your heart beats too quickly, too slowly, or in an irregular pattern, you might have a condition called an arrhythmia . There are multiple different types of arrhythmias, and they can be caused by (or can create) a variety of health conditions—which can be either minimally concerning or life-threatening.
This guide will break down the basics of a cardiac arrhythmia and when you should be worried about potential heart irregularities. Before you continue reading, keep a critical takeaway in mind: If you’re experiencing chest pains, shortness of breath, lightheadedness, or trouble moving, you should seek emergency medical attention . Even if your arrhythmia isn’t serious—or if you aren’t experiencing arrhythmia to begin with—it’s always best to address cardiac symptoms with an abundance of caution.
An arrhythmia—or an irregular heartbeat—is a problem with :
However, it is important to remember that arrhythmia and heart palpitations are different. Heart palpitations are short-term, fast heartbeats that typically last seconds or even minutes. On the other hand, a cardiac arrhythmia is an irregular heart rhythm that can last days or even years.
Let’s break down three different types of arrhythmias you might be experiencing, the potential causes, and more.
Tachycardia is one type of heart arrhythmia that describes a rapid heartbeat . But tachycardia is distinct from the increased heart rate you might experience while you’re exercising or in a stressful situation—if your heart rate is higher than average while you’re relaxed, you may be experiencing tachycardia symptoms.
Tachycardia is a heart rhythm disorder that can result from various physiological causes, including :
While the conditions above can cause tachycardia, a fast heartbeat might be the first warning sign of some of the issues. Identifying them as soon as possible could be critical to preventing permanent or major cardiac injuries.
The second type of arrhythmia is bradycardia—a slower-than-normal heartbeat . In adults, bradycardia generally describes an irregular heart rhythm slower than 60 beats per minute (bpm).
Some common causes of bradycardia include :
The list above isn’t exhaustive, as there are numerous other potential causes of bradycardia. If you suspect that your heartbeat is slower than normal, you may have other symptoms like :
Premature heartbeats—premature ventricular contraction (PVC)—are the final type of heart arrhythmia. Premature heartbeats can occur when the Purkinje fibers (tissues located in the inner ventricular walls) initiate heartbeats instead of the sinoatrial (SA) node .
Simply put, early electrical signaling can cause your heart to beat too early, creating a longer-than-normal pause between two beats.
PVCs can be isolated or can occur in doublets or triplets. In most cases, they don’t have any known causes—they typically occur spontaneously. However, healthcare experts have determined a few risk factors for developing premature heartbeats, including :
Males and Black Americans are also at a statistically higher risk for developing PVCs .
If you suspect that you may have an irregular heartbeat or any other heart condition, you should consider:
Not all arrhythmias (nor the causes) are equally severe. However, healthcare experts recommend consulting your provider or emergency care center anytime you think you might be in danger of cardiac injury.
“When should I be worried about an irregular heartbeat?,” you ask. The answer is, “It depends.” While any suspected cardiac abnormalities should be examined by a healthcare provider, you should seek emergency medical attention if you think you’re experiencing a major cardiac event. Talking to a certified healthcare provider will also help you answer questions like “Is heart disease curable?,” or “Can you have a heart attack and not know it?” They can also give you advice on how to prevent or manage these conditions.
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