I bought a blood pressure monitor (A&D UA-851) which has the option to measure irregular heartbeat. I do understand what 'irregular' means, but why do irregular heartbeats happen and what are it's implications short and long term?
The normal cardiac cycle is comprised of two distinct phases: the systolic phase in which the heart contracts, ejecting the blood, followed by the the diastolic phase when the cardiac muscle relaxes, refilling the heart with blood.
This cycle is assured by specialised cardiomyocytes (Cardiac muscle cells) that conduct electrical impulses through the heart. When there's interference in this electric activity, the cycle becomes irregular or arrhythmic.
Arrhythmias can be divided by their place of origin:
- Atrial (atria are the upper chambers of the heart)
- Ventricular (ventricles are lower chambers of the heart)
- Junctional (the junction between the two)
- Heart blocks (caused by a blockade in the conductivity of the electrical specialised cardiomyocytes)
Some arrhythmias are physiological, such as the Respiratory sinus arrhythmia, a naturally occurring variation in heart rate that occurs during a breathing cycle. Also, in healthy individuals, some extra sistoles might occur without being the translation of a subjacent heart condition and have benign prognosis in individuals without other conditions.
However, some arrhythmias can have a wide range of health implications, from asymptomatic, to a mild intolerance to exercise, to Cerebrovascular Accident (CVA or stroke) or even sudden death due to cardiac arrest.
Therapeutic varies with the underlying cause but can be medical (with drugs such as Na+, K+ and Ca+ channel blockers, beta-blockers and Digoxin) or surgical (ie: Artificial pacemaker).
Very simply putting, irregular heat beat means that the pulse is not regular. It can be diagnosed by checking your pulse clinically.
Irregularities are further classified as:
Regularly Irregular: this occurs in heart blocks where every second or third beat is skipped regularly causing a pattern. Usually as time progresses the degree of block worsens and result in the final form which is complete block (fourth degree heart block)
Irregularly Irregular: this occurs in arrhythmia where there is total dissociation between atria and ventricles and the ventricles beat very irregularly with no pattern. The ventricles don't follow intrinsic rhythm because every SA nodal impulse that occurs at the end of latency of AV node will get conducted. Thus the heart rate is very high without any pattern. (Here heart rate means ventricular rate)