Are tachycardia and cardiac arrhythmia the same thing?


Arrhythmia is a disorder with the rate or rhythm of your heartbeat, i. e., the heart beats with abnormal frequency: too slow, too fast, or irregularly. In some cases, your heart may not be able to pump enough blood to the body; you might also be at increased risk of blood clots.

In some scenarios, it is normal to have a slow or fast heartbeat, i.e., while dancing or sleeping. Sometimes, these changes may be a signal of a more serious, even life-threatening, cardiovascular problem.

When the heart beats faster than usual it is called tachycardia, which is recognized by a resting heart rate greater than 100 beats per minute. Types of tachycardias include:

  • Atrial fibrillation and atrial flutter. Both are characterized by an uncoordinated heart rate because the sinus node (heart’s natural pacemaker) no longer controls the heart rhythm. They differ from each other because in flutter the beats have a more regular pattern than in fibrillation.
  • Supraventricular tachycardia. Characterized by episodes of strong beats (palpitations) that begin and end abruptly.
  • Ventricular fibrillation. It occurs when lower chambers of the heart (ventricles) quiver very rapidly, chaotically, and ineffectively. This type of arrhythmia can be fatal if the normal heart rhythm is not restored within minutes. 
  • Ventricular tachycardia. The rapid heart rate does not allow the ventricles to fill adequately with blood and as a result, the heart fails to pump enough blood to the body. The patient's health condition can range from mild to severe, some may feel dizzy or faint while others may even suffer cardiac arrest.

Contrary to tachycardia, when the resting heart rate is less than 60 beats per minute, it is known as bradycardia. Examples of bradycardias are:

  • Sick sinus syndrome. It usually occurs due to the presence of scars near the sinus node that slow, interrupt, or block the travel of electrical impulses. This disease is more common in older adults. 
  • Conduction block. A block of the heart’s electrical pathways can slow or stop the signals that trigger the heartbeats.

Extra beats might occur one at a time, in patterns or even feel like you skipped a beat. Extra beats are not generally a cause of concern. However, a premature heartbeat can trigger a longer-lasting arrhythmia or persist until it weakens the heart. 

  • If you feel any changes in your heart rhythm, it is better for you to visit your doctor to avoid future complications. If you already have other more evident symptoms such as shortness of breath, weakness, fainting, or dizziness, and chest pain or discomfort, seek immediate medical help.
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