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The form of cardiac arrhythmia determines the risk
Experts estimate that around 50 percent of all people have ever experienced a “heart stumbling”. These mostly harmless rhythm disorders are also called “extrasystoles” in specialist medicine. But when are cardiac arrhythmias a sign of a dangerous heart disease? And when is it advisable to consult a cardiologist? These and more questions are answered below.
A regular, strong heartbeat is the basis of a healthy cardiovascular system. In the case of cardiac arrhythmia, the frequency of the heartbeat gets out of step and there are complaints that, depending on the extent of the cardiac arrhythmia, can lead to fainting or, in the worst case, even death of the person concerned.
Which treatment for the different forms of cardiac arrhythmias is actually recommended, why potassium and magnesium are so important for those affected, how you can protect yourself from the common disease atrial fibrillation and many other questions are discussed in detail in the guide of the German Heart Foundation. Even if those affected by cardiac arrhythmias often think directly of the worst, namely a heart attack, many forms are easy to treat today and the patients are often hardly restricted in their everyday life. To assess the risk, however, a specialist examination by the cardiologist is urgently required.
Slight deviations in heart rate are normal
Particularly in the case of mild cardiac arrhythmias, there are often no accompanying symptoms and those affected are not aware of their deviating heart rate. However, the body is fundamentally dependent on a regular, strong heartbeat. The normal heart rate at rest is between 60 and 100 beats per minute, says Professor Thomas Meinertz, Chairman of the German Heart Foundation in Frankfurt am Main. All deviations, such as too slow, too fast or irregular heartbeats, are referred to as cardiac arrhythmia, according to the expert. However, irregularities in the heartbeat, such as additional beats in the context of heart stumbling, are normal to a certain extent.
Sudden changes in heart rate are questionable
In the case of pathological cardiac arrhythmias, according to the expert, there is typically a sudden change in the pulse to a very high or very low heart rate. This is mostly the result of heart diseases such as an inflammation of the heart muscle or narrowing of the coronary arteries, quotes the "dpa" Professor Meinertz. Risk factors for the occurrence of cardiac arrhythmias include, for example, particularly high mental and physical stress, obesity, magnesium and potassium deficiency. However, lack of sleep and the excessive consumption of coffee, alcohol and nicotine can also play a role, according to the expert.
The German Heart Foundation cites symptoms such as shortness of breath, tightness in the chest and dizziness as possible signs of cardiac arrhythmia. Some of those affected also faint for a short time. However, the extent of the complaints was not a measure of the danger of cardiac arrhythmias. In this way, threatening cardiac arrhythmias could remain unnoticed by those affected for a long time, explains Meinertz.
The most common form of cardiac arrhythmia is atrial fibrillation, according to the German Heart Foundation. In Germany, around two million people are affected. The pulse in the heart is disturbed in this complaint. In this way, the electrical impulses from the right auricle are not properly transmitted, but instead "other electrical impulses circle in the atria", says Felix Gramley from the Heidelberg Private Clinic for Cardiology. This leads to uncoordinated excitations of the atrial muscles. "As a result, the atria no longer contract regularly and no longer actively transport the blood into the ventricles," Gramley continues. Atrial fibrillation also promotes the formation of blood clots, which increases the risk of stroke for those affected.
Treatment for atrial fibrillation
Treatment for atrial fibrillation also includes prescribing blood-thinning medications and so-called beta blockers to reduce the risk of stroke. These are intended to help patients with minor complaints in particular to control their heart rhythm and avoid heart rates that are too high or too low, quotes “dpa” Felix Gramley. With this treatment, however, atrial fibrillation persists as such.
In the case of pronounced symptoms, however, the so-called electrical cardioversion can be used, in which two electrodes on the chest give a targeted electric shock to the heart under brief anesthesia, which resets atrial fibrillation and the normal heart rhythm resumes, reports the expert. If this does not bring the desired success in the long term, there is also the option of a so-called catheter ablation, which provides for the obliteration of certain areas in the heart tissue, which are responsible for atrial fibrillation, using high-frequency current or cold, reports the "dpa", citing Felix Gramley . The resulting scars prevent the interference pulses from being passed on.
Ventricular fibrillation: the cardiovascular system is virtually at a standstill
Ventricular fibrillation is a dangerous cardiac arrhythmia, with the heart muscle pounding so quickly at over 300 beats per minute "that it can hardly pump blood and oxygen through the body," explains Philipp Sommer from the Heart Center Leipzig. The heart and circulation would actually come to a standstill at that moment. A sudden loss of pulse and fainting are the consequences. "Within ten minutes, the probability of survival drops by more than 50 percent, and the risk of brain damage increases drastically due to the lack of oxygen," Sommer is quoted by the "dpa". In this case, those affected need immediate help. Passers-by must also react immediately, check their breathing and, if necessary, start a cardiac massage, the expert warns. This helps to maintain the blood flow a little.
In the end, ventricular fibrillation can only be interrupted by a defibrillator. Its current surge brings the heart to a standstill briefly, "so that it can then find its normal rhythm again," says Sommer. Automated external defibrillators (AED) can be found in many public institutions today and can save lives in such a case. They can also be used by laypeople without any problems.
If the first aid measures show success and the patients survive acute ventricular fibrillation, the German Heart Foundation says that a follow-up treatment is required, in which those affected are usually implanted with a small defibrillator. This automatically analyzes every heartbeat and when ventricular fibrillation occurs again, electric shocks are delivered within a few seconds. "When the patients are awake, they find it painful, but it saves their lives," emphasized Philipp Sommer. (fp)