4 – 10 June 2018 is World Heart Rhythm Week. This annual event, organised by the charity Arrhythmia Alliance, is held to raise awareness of heart arrhythmia both in the medical profession and amongst the general public.
The heart is, effectively, a pump made of muscle which continuously pumps blood around the body through the circulatory system. An average heart beats 100,000 times a day, pumping around 2,000 gallons of blood around the body.
The heart is controlled by electrical impulses. In a normal heart, these impulses come from a group of cells known as the ‘sinus node’. The sinus node is the heart’s natural pacemaker and signals from it travel first to the upper chambers of the heart (the atria) and then to the lower chambers (the ventricles). These signals tell the chambers when to contract which, in turn, pumps blood through the heart and around the body. When a heart is working properly, the electrical pattern is known as ‘sinus rhythm’. At rest, a normal ‘sinus rhythm’ will mean the heart is beating at between 60 – 100 beats per minute.
Heart arrhythmia is the term used to describe a group of conditions where the heart has an abnormal rhythm. The most common types of heart arrhythmia happen when:
Some arrhythmias are so brief that the overall rhythm of the heart is not affected. However arrhythmias that last longer can cause the heart to beat at an irregular rhythm, or to beat too slow or too fast. The most common heart arrhythmia is atrial fibrillation. This happens when the heart beats irregularly and fast. Other examples are bradycardia, when the heart rhythm is too slow; and tachycardia, where the heart experiences very fast beats. When the heart is not beating properly, it is unable to pump blood around the body effectively.
Some arrhythmias have no symptoms but it is important to speak to your doctor if you have symptoms of dizziness; breathlessness; feeling tired; palpitations (when your heart feels like it is fluttering or thumping in your chest); or if you lose consciousness. This year, World Heart Rhythm Week has taken as its theme ‘Take Fainting Seriously’. Fainting is a relatively common event but in some cases it can be a sign of a heart rhythm disorder so it should not be ignored.
Camilla Wonnacott, an associate in the clinical negligence team at Penningtons Manches, says: “Heart Rhythm Week is an excellent opportunity to raise awareness about how the heart works and the problems that can happen with heart function. If individuals are aware of the potential symptoms of heart arrhythmia, they are better equipped to know when to ask their doctor for advice and, if need be, to ensure they are tested and treated at an early stage.”
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