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Heart Function and Rhythms

After 22 years as an RN, I now write about medical issues and new medical advances. Diet, exercise, treatment, and lifestyle are important.

Front view of heart showing the atria

Front view of heart showing the atria

Heart Anatomy

The heart is a fist-sized muscular organ that weighs about 10.5 ounces, and its job is to pump blood throughout our bodies. The blood carries oxygen and nutrients to body cells via the arteries, while getting rid of carbon dioxide and other metabolic waste. The heart has four chambers, which include a left and right atria at the top of the heart and a left and right ventricle.

The sinoatrial node, located in the right atria, is a group of pacemaking cells that cause the heart to contract in a rhythm. The right atria receives blood from the veins and is then pumped into the right ventricle. Then, the blood goes to the lungs to dispel carbon dioxide, and it receives oxygen. The blood is then pumped into the left atria and into the left ventricle. The blood is then pumped into the body through the arteries.

Heart Disease

There are several types of heart disease, and it is the number one killer globally as 17.9 million people die each year. Heart disease includes:

  • Coronary artery disease (highest number of deaths)
  • Cardiomyopathy (disease of the heart muscle)
  • Heart failure
  • Heart valve disease
  • Heart arrhythmias (atrial fibrillation is the most common)
Large spikes show the ventricle contraction and the smaller spikes show the artria.

Large spikes show the ventricle contraction and the smaller spikes show the artria.

Bradycardia

When your heart rate is too slow it is called bradycardia, which means it beats slower than 60 beats a minute. This is more common in the elderly, but your heart rate may be in the 50s when you are asleep. If you are asymptomatic, then a heart rate in the 50s is fine.

The symptoms of bradycardia include:

  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Fatigue or weakness
  • Confusion
  • Shortness of breath
  • Difficulty with exercise
  • Fainting or near fainting spells
  • Cardiac arrest (extreme cases)

The doctor will look at your medications to make sure they are not causing your bradicardia. If bradycardia is a problem you may require a pacemaker.

What Is Atrial Fibrillation?

Atrial Fibrillation

Atrial fibrillation is a worldwide problem, as there were 37,574 million cases in 2020. This is a disturbance of the heart’s rhythm. The two atria beat chaotically in a fast rhythm.

The danger of atrial fibrillation is blood clots, and the heart will be pumping less blood with each beat. The heart rate for this fast pace is 100-175. Atrial fibrillation can cause strokes, congestive heart failure and other complications. Many times this rhythm can come and go. This problem is diagnosed with an EKG.

The symptoms of atrial fibrillation may include:

  • Weakness and fatigue
  • Palpitations that are often uncomfortable
  • Lightheadedness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Reduced ability to exercise
  • Chest pain

There are numerous possible causes, including a heart attack, high blood pressure, abnormal heart valve or coronary artery disease.

There are factors that may increase your risk for atrial fibrillation, including:

  • Age (the risk increases with age)
  • Any type of heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Chronic conditions, such as thyroid problems, sleep apnea, diabetes
  • Drinking alcohol (especially binge drinking)
  • There are factors that may increase your risk for atrial fibrillation, including:
  • Age (the risk increases with age)
  • Any type of heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Chronic conditions, such as thyroid problems, sleep apnea, diabetes
  • Drinking alcohol (especially binge drinking)
  • Obesity
  • Family history
Atrial Fibrillation on EKG

Atrial Fibrillation on EKG

Treatment for Atrial Fibrillation

Antiarrhythmic medications are always tried first, and they include:

  • Disopyramide (Norpace)
  • Procainamide (Pronestyl)
  • Flecainide acetate (Tambocor)
  • Propafenone (Rythmol)
  • Sotalol (Betapace)
  • Dofetilide (Tikosyn)
  • Amiodarone (Cordarone)
  • Sotalol (Betapace)
  • Dofetilide (Tikosyn)
  • Amiodarone (Cordarone)

Hospitalization is sometimes required when starting these medications to monitor your heart rhythm. The medications work from 30-60% of the time, but eventually they lose their effectiveness.

There are medications that control the heart rate that are also used, and they include: digoxin, Topral, Lopressor. Calan or Cardizem.

Medications to control your heart rate and anticoagulant medications may be used together. Lifestyle changes are also recommended, which includes controlling your weight and blood pressure, quitting smoking and controlling your blood sugar if you are diabetic.

When medications don’t work there are several possible procedures that may be used, such as cardioversion. This procedure will often restore a normal heart rhythm.

When medications do not work a pulmonary vein ablation (also called pulmonary vein antrum isolation or PVAI) may be used. The success rate for this procedure is 50-70%.

An ablation of the AV node is a more permanent solution. A catheter that is inserted through the groin is guided to the heart, then radiofrequency energy is delivered to the AV node to server or injure the node. This procedure prevents the electrical signals from the atria from reaching the ventricles.

Ablation of the AV node also uses radiofrequency energy that is delivered through a catheter to sever or injure the AV node.

A Safer Way To Treat AFib

Final Thoughts

Cardiac disease is the number one killer around the world. You are at a higher risk if you have high blood pressure, diabetes or if you are obese. The importance of a healthy diet and exercise is so important to prevent all diseases.

References

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

© 2021 Pamela Oglesby

Comments

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on March 22, 2021:

Hi Devika,

Lifestyle is so important for good health. I appreciate your comments. Blessings.

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on March 22, 2021:

Hi Pamela lifestyle changes are important for all functions in our body. You share the best in health articles and inform us in detail.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on March 21, 2021:

Hi Genna,

My mother ended up dying of cardiomyopathy, but until she was 95.

I'm glad you found this article interesting. There is a lot of heart disease, for sure. I think it is good for people to be informed by know the symptoms so they know when to see the doctor.

Thank you so much for your generous comments. I hope you have a good week. Stay safe and healthy.

Genna East from Massachusetts, USA on March 21, 2021:

What an interesting article, Pamela. My mother had heart disease -- cardiomyopathy. I've escaped it thus far, but I still have miles to go as yet. (Well, hopefully I do.) It is worrisome to see how certain people have some form of heart disease, and don't even know it. This is a must read for everyone. Thank you.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on March 20, 2021:

Hi MG,

I have always thought the heart was most important, but then it could be the brain.

I am glad you found this article to be informative. I appreciate you reading and commenting, as always.

Have a good weekend.

MG Singh emge from Singapore on March 20, 2021:

Pamela, a wonderful article that is exhaustive and informative. The heart is perhaps the most important organ of the human body and it's nice of you to have dovetailed all the information.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on March 20, 2021:

Thank you, Brenda. Much of my nursing career was working with patients with heart problems. I worked everywhere from ICU to cardiac rehabilitation. I remember patients that had the ablation treatment.

Hindsight is always 20-20. I think we can all look back and wish we had done so something sooner. I really appreciate all of your comments.

Making people aware of how their body works and how to recognize some symptoms, plus getting treatment is the goal of my medical articles. I loved being a nurse and wish I could still work.

BRENDA ARLEDGE from Washington Court House on March 20, 2021:

Thanks Pamela,

I was certain you would know about SVT...my only regret was I was too chicken to do ablation sooner.

It really does work.

Your articles are really great to let people become more aware.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on March 20, 2021:

Hi Rosina,

I don't think being slightly overweight is as dangerous as being very obese. I think starting an exercise progam is a great idea, however. I am glad you have made that decision.

My daughter-in-law has one of those Apple watches that counts your steps, which is helpful for some people.

I appreciate your comments and support, as always.

Rosina S Khan on March 20, 2021:

This article had me thinking after you mentioned heart disease is of higher risk to those who have diabetes, blood pressure or are obese. Luckily I do not have diabetes or blood pressure but I am a little overweight. It's high time I should start exercising at least start with a 10 minute walk every day. I know it will pay off. I intend to do so as soon as I can. Thanks for your helpful article, Pamela. I really appreciate your contribution.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on March 20, 2021:

Hi Misbah,

I am glad you found this article to be informative. I hope it does increase awareness as that is why I write these medical articles.

Healthy living is good to prevent all disease. Thank you so much for your comments and your support. Have a good weekend. Blessings.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on March 20, 2021:

Linda, They can detect an aortic aneurysm using a ultrasound, and it is recommended that men over 65 get screened.

My husband fell when we were visiting family and broke a bone. They found that he had an abdominal aortic aneurysm in the ER, and that was not why we were there. He hd the surgery in his 60s, and they said he wouldn't have lived more than about 3 months if it had not been found. I guess God wasn't ready for him as that was rather strange.

I probably should write an article about that so people know when they need to be screened. Thanks, Linda.

Misbah Sheikh from The World of Poets on March 20, 2021:

Pamela, Thanks a lot for sharing this informative, helpful and educational article.

I hope this information can save many lives and can create awareness among people

A good and healthy diet is Very important to live a healthy life,

Blessings

Linda Lum from Washington State, USA on March 20, 2021:

Pamela, yes my daughter is on medication, but I wonder if an article on the triple-A would be helpful. I've heard that there is now screening for the problem (my dad died 40 years ago).

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on March 20, 2021:

Hi Brenda,

I do spend a lot of time researching the information, but as a nurse I can simplify it. Thank you so much for your comments.

I have seen SVT many times as a nurse and the ablation therapies are great for them and for atrial fibrillation.

There are many types of heart rhythm problems, but I don't want to write too much in one article.

Have a great weekend.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on March 20, 2021:

Hi Linda,

There are several more problems with the heart that i haven't written about as no one would want read an article that long. LOL

Tachycardia is a fast heart but I would think she is prescribed medication if it is too fast.

I don't know which heart problem you are familiar with, but if you want to write an article that covers that topic I would do that. I'm sorry about your Dad also.

Don't sell yourself short, Linda, as I think you are a brilliant woman. I am glad that everyone is telling me I wrote in terms they could understand.

I appreciate your comments and I hope you are having a good weekend.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on March 20, 2021:

Hi Nell,

I'm sure your brother is not happy about that, and I hope he will be okay. I 'm also glad that you found the article to have good information.

I appreciate your comments. Have a good weekend.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on March 20, 2021:

Hi Vanita,

I am glad that you found this article to have understandable language as that is my goal.

Thank you so much for your comments. You have a great weekend too.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on March 20, 2021:

Hi Bill,

I am glad you have no symptoms and considering how active you are maybe it will stay that way. I think any time we get some diagnoses about our heart it is a little more distressing than another area of the body, not that we want any bad news.

I appreciate your comments. Have a good weekend.

BRENDA ARLEDGE from Washington Court House on March 20, 2021:

Pamela,

Your articles are always so well written with the details. You really do your homework on these.

In other words...it is great.

I had SVT (super ventricular tachycardia) for a long time.

It is a condition which is kind of like afib ventricular tachycardia, but heart beats go much faster. Usually an extra pathway in one's heart where the heartbeat gets stuck.

I suffered with these atttacks for 34 or 35 years until I finally had the ablation done in January of 2018.

Trust me...I wish I had done this alot sooner. It has been a life saver in more ways than one..& I can have chocolate again.

Thanks for sharing your work.

Linda Lum from Washington State, USA on March 20, 2021:

Pamela, this is an interesting article and although you didn't mention the conditions I'm (unfortunately) familiar with, it's good to have a better understanding of how the heart functions. My daughter has tachycardia and my Dad died from a triple-A.

Our bodies are pretty amazing, aren't they? So complex, but you do an excellent job of presenting the information so that even I can understand it.

Nell Rose from England on March 20, 2021:

Great information Pamela. My brother has heart problems, he has a device just under his skin to check the heart rhythm.

Vanita Thakkar on March 20, 2021:

Very informative article on one of the most important aspects of health in simple, understandable language. Thanks. Have a great weekend.

Bill De Giulio from Massachusetts on March 20, 2021:

Great information, Pam. Years ago I was diagnosed with a PFO. I have no symptoms, but my doctor heard something during a routine annual physical. For now I simply take a baby aspirin daily. It has not impacted my life and I continue to run and be active but certainly it’s always on my mind.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on March 20, 2021:

Hi John,

That is exactly what I am trying to do. I appreciate your comments, as always. I hope you are enjoying your weekend.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on March 20, 2021:

Hi DW,

I always try to simplify my medical articles so they are understandable. It is ridiculous to have to teach information that is clearly over their heads.

I am glad you found this informative. Thank you for your nice comments. Have a good weekend.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on March 20, 2021:

Hi Bill,

I am sorry to hear about the woman. I knew about your father. Heart disease is all too common.

I am glad you found the information to be good. I appreciate your comments. I hope you and Bev have a good weekend.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on March 20, 2021:

Hi Adrienne,

It is fairly common to have PCVs and PACs as long as there are too many. You may never get atrial fibrillation.

I appreciate your comments. Have a good weekend.

John Hansen from Queensland Australia on March 20, 2021:

Thank you for sharing this information, Pamela. It is very helpful to know the symptoms etc of these conditions.

DW Davis from Eastern NC on March 20, 2021:

This would have come in handy when teaching my middle schoolers about the heart and circulatory system. You explained it in terms they could have understood whereas the text we had seemed to think they were all ready for medical school.

Thanks for an informative Hub.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on March 20, 2021:

I lost my father to heart disease. I lost the woman I was going to marry to heart disease. I am all too familiar with heart disease, I'm afraid.

Excellent information, as always, my friend!

Adrienne Farricelli on March 20, 2021:

We tend to take out heart's rhythm for granted, and only realize we have problems when the heart's beating gets erratic. My cardiologist found a few PVCs and PACs on my last holter, but fortunately no signs of Afib. Glad to hear there are meds and procedures though to treat it. It must feel scary to get such episodes!

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on March 20, 2021:

Hi Chitrangada,

I am glad you found this article informative and that you learned from the information.

Thank you so much for your thoughtful comments. Have a good weekend.

Chitrangada Sharan from New Delhi, India on March 20, 2021:

An informative article about the heart disease. You have provided valuable information and in easy to understand language. There are several factors responsible for heart ailments. One should lead a healthy lifestyle and get periodical health check ups done.

I learnt a lot from your well presented and well researched article.

Thank you for the education and awareness. It will be helpful to many.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on March 20, 2021:

Hi Peggy,

Putting the the heart rhythms in layman terms was what I intended to do, so I very much appreciate your comments. Your comment about age is so true, and I know the bulk of birthdays are behind me too.

It is not pleasant here today, but I am glad to hear it is a beautiful day in Houston. Enjoy your weekend and your gardening.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on March 20, 2021:

Thanks for putting these explanations about rhythms of the heart in layman's terms so that people can understand them more easily. While we can do some things to help ourselves avoid complications, aging is not one of them. The older I get, I realize that there will be fewer birthdays ahead than behind me. We should try to enjoy each day as it comes. It is a bright and beautiful day in Houston today. Some gardening is on the agenda. Enjoy your weekend, Pamela!

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on March 20, 2021:

Hi Manatita,

I absolutely agree with you about fast foods and obesity. We in the west did create that problem.

I wasn't sure just how much detail would be interesting to people, and I am glad you found the article educational.

Thanks you so much for your comments, Have a good weekend. Blessings.

Ann Carr from SW England on March 20, 2021:

Thanks, Pamela, you too.

Ann

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on March 20, 2021:

Hi Ann,

Sometimes there is simply no known cause. I am glad your partner's atrial fibrillation is controlled with medication.

I appreciate your comments. Have a good weekend, Ann.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on March 20, 2021:

Hi Flourish,

My father had the same experience as yours. He wasn't happy about it either.

I appreciate your generous comments. Have a good weekend!

FlourishAnyway from USA on March 20, 2021:

My dad has always exercised a lot but has had afib and a heart rate in the 40s. He eventually had to get a pacemaker which made him upset and hadn’t completely controlled the afib. Your article is thorough and an excellent source of information for people looking to stay healthy.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on March 20, 2021:

Hi Vivian,

The anatomy and heart problems are boring to read, at least that is my opinion. I just hope if I simplify things so someone who needs to know will get help.

I am glad you found the article educational. I appreciate your very nice comments. Have a good weekend.

Ann Carr from SW England on March 20, 2021:

A comprehensive explanation of heart problems, Pamela. My partner has atrial fibrillation and has medication for it, which is fine. He is slim, works on all sorts of things so gets plenty of exercise outside, always has, and it doesn't seem to create any problems. Seeing as he is close to 80, he's in pretty good shape!

Thanks for another educative hub, Pamela. You always deliver!

Ann

manatita44 from london on March 20, 2021:

Obesity is a big one. I do not like to name countries, but let's say that we in the West are guilty for creating fast foods of addiction, like certain drugs, foods which harm us by increasing our body mss and giving us these illnesses which you mention.

A rather beautiful diagram of the Heart. Next time take us through the cardiac cycle and how the whole thing works. fascinating! Fabulous and educational Hub!

Vivian Coblentz on March 20, 2021:

I love this concise and easy to understand breakdown of the various heart conditions. Reading this type of thing online can be cumbersome, but you explain a lot of info in layman's terms. As always, very educational!

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on March 20, 2021:

Hi Cheryl,

I have the same prayer. Thank you so much for your thoughtful comment.

Cheryl E Preston from Roanoke on March 20, 2021:

Thank you for this article. I pray it saves many lives.

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