Arrhythmias Living With

If you have been diagnosed with an arrhythmia, make sure to follow your treatment plan. Keep your regular appointments with your doctor and ask about steps you can take to keep your arrhythmia from happening again or getting worse.

What types of health problems can arrhythmias cause?

Arrhythmias that are not diagnosed or are left untreated can cause complications affecting your heart and brain. They may include:

  • Cardiac arrest: Arrhythmias can cause your heart to stop beating suddenly and unexpectedly.
  • Heart failure: Repeat arrhythmias cause cardiomyopathy, which can lead to heart failure. This is a serious condition that happens when your heart can’t pump enough blood to meet your body’s needs. 
  • Problems with thinking and memory: Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia are more common in people who have arrhythmias. This may be because arrhythmias may reduce blood flow to your brain over time.
  • Stroke: With arrhythmias, blood can pool in the upper chambers of the heart, causing blood clots to form. If a clot breaks off and travels to the brain, it can cause a stroke.
  • Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS): If born with an Inherited type of arrhythmia, your baby may have a higher risk of SIDS.
  • Worsening arrhythmias: Some arrhythmias can get worse over time or can trigger another type of arrhythmia.

Call 9-1-1 right away if you think you or someone else is having a stroke or is in cardiac arrest. Learn the warning signs of a stroke and how to help someone who is in cardiac arrest

Managing arrhythmias at home

  • Lie down if you feel dizzy or faint or if you feel palpitations. Do not try to walk or drive. Tell your doctor about these symptoms.
  • Talk to your doctor about techniques that you can do at home if you notice your heart racing.
  • Ask your doctor what types and amounts of exercise are safe for you. You may want to exercise in public or with a friend who can get help if necessary.
  • Learn how to take your pulse. Ask 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.
  • Carry a medical device ID card or wear a medical ID necklace or bracelet. These should have information about your condition and contact information for your doctor. This will help alert medical personnel and others about your condition if you have an emergency.
  • Have a plan in place for how to handle problems with your heart rhythm. Let others know that you might faint or your heart might stop beating. Tell them to call 9-1-1 right away if you have symptoms of serious complications. 
  • Consider asking a loved one to learn cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) in case your heart stops beating. You also may want to keep an automated external defibrillator (AED) with you at home or at work. This device uses electric shocks to restore a normal heart rhythm. Someone at your home or workplace should be trained in how to use the AED. If a trained person isn’t available, an untrained person can also use the AED to help save your life. 

Know your triggers

Your doctor may suggest taking these precautions, depending on what triggers your arrhythmia: 

  • Avoid contact sports that might move your pacemaker or implantable defibrillator out of place.
  • Avoid high-intensity activities such as swimming or diving.
  • Avoid or limit caffeine, which is in coffee, tea, soda, and chocolate.
  • Change your alarm and phone ring tones to avoid sudden stress or loud noises. 
  • Check with your doctor before taking over-the-counter medicines, nutritional supplements, or cold and allergy medicines. 

Make healthy lifestyle changes

Your doctor may ask you to adopt lifelong heart-healthy lifestyle changes to help lower your risk of complications.

Your doctor may also ask you to reduce or stop drinking alcohol.

Get routine medical care

How often you need to see your doctor for follow-up care will depend on your symptoms and treatment.

  • Get treatment right away for conditions that can trigger or worsen arrhythmias.
  • Keep all your doctor’s appointments. Bring a list of all the medicines you take to every doctor and emergency room visit. This will help your doctors know exactly what medicines you are taking, which can help prevent medicine errors. You may need routine heart and blood tests to check how well your treatment is working. You may also need regular checkups to monitor your pacemaker or ICD.
  • Take your medicines as prescribed. Do not stop taking any medicines unless your doctor asks you to do so.
  • Tell your doctor if you have side effects from your medicines, such as depression, dizziness, or palpitations. Some medicines can cause low blood pressure or a slow heart rate or can make heart failure worse. Do not stop taking your medicines without talking to your doctor.
  • Tell your doctor if your symptoms are getting worse or if you have new symptoms. Over time, arrhythmias can become more common, last longer, or get worse. This can make your treatment not work as well as it used to work.

Take care of your mental health

Living with an arrhythmia may cause fear, anxiety, depression, and stress. Talk about how you feel with your healthcare team. Talking to a professional counselor can also help. 

  • If you are depressed, you may need medicines or other treatments that can improve your quality of life.
  • Joining a patient support group may help you adjust to living with an arrhythmia. You can see how other people have coped with the condition. Talk to your doctor about local support groups or check with an area medical center.
  • Support from family and friends also can help relieve stress and anxiety. Let your loved ones know how you feel and what they can do to help you.

Some people learn they have an arrhythmia because they get tested after a family member dies suddenly from this condition. Grief counseling may help you cope if this has happened to you. Talk with your doctor about finding a grief counselor.

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