7 Heart Rhythms Worth Knowing

In an earlier post i wrote, “What Is An EKG?” It’s a test that records the electrical activity inside your heart. An EKG can be used to determine your heart rhythm. shows if your heart rhythm is normal or abnormal (arrhythmia). Here are five heart rhythm worth knowing.

Heart anatomy

Before we begin, it may be helpful to review some “basic heart anatomy.” As a quick review, your heart is a muscle. It has four chambers: the two upper chambers (right and left atria) and the two lower chambers (right and left ventricles).1-2 When your heart muscle is relaxed it receives blood. The atria receive blood first.

In your right atria is your dominant pacemaker. Your pacemaker is known as your “sino-atrial node” or “SA node” or “sinus node. It is a cluster of cells that send electrical impulses through your heart causing it to constrict (systole phase).1-2

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The impulse simultaneously goes through both atria. They constrict simultaneously, forcing blood to your ventricles. The impulse then simultaneously travels through both ventricles which constrict at the same time, forcing blood to your lungs and entire body.1-2 The electrical impulse goes away and your heart enters diastole again.

Besides your sinus node, many areas of your heart that can initiate an electrical charge. These areas are called “Automaticity Foci” or “Potential Pacemakers.” These kick into action in emergency situations, such as when the sinus node fails to kick in. Although, sometimes they get excitable and take over.1

Basic heart rhythms

The basic heart rhythms include:

Normal sinus rhythm (regular sinus rhythm)

This means your natural pacemaker is working fine. It means your “sinus node” is triggering the impulse that flows normally through your heart. It means your heart rate is normal and rhythm is regular. A normal heart rate is 60-100.1-2

Sinus tachycardia

This means you have a normal sinus rhythm but your heart rate is greater than 100. This can occur normally as a result of exercise or stress. It can also be the result of certain diseased conditions, such as those that cause low oxygen levels or a fever. It may also be caused by certain medicines, caffeine, or nicotine. In such instances, treating the cause can reverse this.1-3

Bradycardia

This means your heart rate is less than 60. Normal sinus rhythm with a rate of less than 60 can be normal. This can occur with age or those who are in very good physical shape, such as runners. There are also various disease processes that can cause bradycardia, such as heart disease. In these cases, your heartbeat is not fast enough to supply your body with the necessary nutrients.

You may feel fatigued, lightheaded, or short of breath. It may also cause low blood pressure, fainting, chest pain, or heart failure. When this happens it is a medical emergency. Immediate treatment by a healthcare team is necessary. There are medicinal options that can help. Another treatment here might be a pacemaker.1,2,4

Preventricular contractions (PVC)

This is when an area inside a ventricle becomes excited and initiates an impulse. Premature essentially means that it initiates an impulse before the sinus node has a chance to kick in. These beats are often felt as a fluttery feeling in your chest. An occasional PVC is generally considered harmless. Frequent PVCs may result from heart disease and require treatment.1,2,5

Atrial fibrillation (Afib, AF)

This is an irregular rhythm. It results from various random areas of your atria being excitable. They send off electrical impulses before the sinus node has a chance to kick in. These premature beats go so fast your atria appear to quiver or "fibrillate." Each impulse causes your atria to constrict, but only some get through to the ventricles causing it to constrict. So, this makes your atria less effective at moving blood to your ventricles.

As blood pools, blood clots may form. If these break free it can cause a stroke. So, it’s a serious arrhythmia that requires medical treatment. In most cases it can be reversed with treatment. Although, with some disease states, it can become “normal for you.” In such cases, blood thinners are usually prescribed to prevent blood clots and strokes.1,2,6

Supraventricular tachycardia

This is when the heart muscle above the ventricles becomes excitable. It causes a heartbeat 150-250 times per minute. You may feel it in your chest as a fluttery feeling. It can also make you feel fatigued, weak, or short of breath. It’s non-life-threatening and usually goes away on its own. However, if symptoms persist you should seek medical consultation.1,2,7

Ventricular tachycardia

This is an abnormal heart rhythm that is life-threatening. It’s where various areas above your ventricles become excited. It causes a ventricular heartbeat of 150-250 per minute. It’s like having a bunch of subsequent PVCs. This may happen when your heart isn’t receiving enough oxygen (ischemia) which can cause your ventricles to become very irritable.

If it lasts only a few seconds it may result in no symptoms. However, a heartbeat this fast is ineffective at pumping blood. If prolonged, it causes a decrease in blood pressure and a lack of oxygen to your organs, including your brain. So, if it continues, it usually results in loss of consciousness. Immediate emergency treatment is needed to reverse this “life-threatening arrhythmia.”1,2,8

Age and certain disease states may cause heart rhythm changes so these are some basic heart rhythms worth knowing.

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