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Living With an Arrhythmia

Many arrhythmias are harmless. It's common to have an occasional extra heartbeat or mild palpitations. People who have harmless arrhythmias can live healthy lives. They usually don't need treatment for their arrhythmias.

Even people who have serious arrhythmias often can be successfully treated and lead normal lives.

Ongoing Care

If you have an arrhythmia that requires treatment, you should:

  • Keep all of your medical appointments. Bring a list of all the medicines you're taking to every doctor and emergency room visit. This will help your doctors know exactly what medicines you're taking, which can help prevent medication errors.
  • Take your medicines as prescribed. Check with your doctor before taking over-the-counter medicines, nutritional supplements, or cold and allergy medicines. Some of these products can trigger rapid heart rhythms or interact poorly with heart rhythm medicines.
  • Tell your doctor if you're having side effects from your medicines. Side effects might include depression and palpitations. These side effects often can be treated.
  • Tell your doctor if arrhythmia symptoms are getting worse or if you have new symptoms.
  • See your doctor for regular checkups if you're taking blood-thinning medicines. You may need routine blood tests to check how the medicines are working.

If you have an arrhythmia, taking care of yourself is important. If you feel dizzy or faint, you should lie down. Don't try to walk or drive. Let your doctor know about these symptoms.

Ask your doctor whether vagal maneuvers are an option for you. These exercises can help stop a rapid heartbeat, but they're not appropriate for everyone.

Learn how to take your pulse. Discuss with your doctor what pulse rate is normal for you. Keep a record of changes in your pulse rate and share this information with your doctor.

Lifestyle Changes

Many arrhythmias are caused by underlying heart disease. Keep your heart healthy by following a healthy diet.

A healthy diet includes a variety of fruits and vegetables. It also includes whole grains, fat-free or low-fat dairy products, and protein foods, such as lean meats, poultry without skin, seafood, processed soy products, nuts, seeds, and beans and peas.

A healthy diet is low in sodium (salt), added sugars, solid fats, and refined grains. Solid fats are saturated fat and trans fatty acids. Refined grains come from processing whole grains, which results in a loss of nutrients (such as dietary fiber).

For more information about following a healthy diet, go to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute's "Your Guide to Lowering Your Blood Pressure With DASH" and the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Web site. Both resources provide general information about healthy eating.

A healthy lifestyle also includes being physically active, quitting smoking, maintaining a healthy weight, and keeping your blood cholesterol and blood pressure at healthy levels.

Strong emotional stress or anger can lead to arrhythmias. Try to manage stress and anger through activities such as yoga, quiet time, meditation, and relaxation techniques. Getting support from friends and family also can help you manage stress.

Your doctor may want you to avoid certain substances if they make your heart beat too fast. These substances may include alcohol and cold and cough medicines.

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Last Updated: July 1, 2011