When electrical signals in the heart are disrupted this can cause ‘arrhythmias’. ‘Arrhythmia’ is a general term for any abnormal heart rhythm, where the heart is not beating in ‘sinus rhythm’. The heart beats either too fast, too slow or irregularly.
Some arrhythmias are harmless. Others require treatment with medication, surgery or devices.
Note: arrhythmias are sometimes referred to as ‘dysrhythmia’, and either term can be used
What is a normal heart rhythm?
A normal ‘resting’ heartbeat is usually between 60 and 100 beats per minute in an adult.
The speed at which the heart beats (pumps blood out) will vary and depends on what the person is doing.
For example, the heart beats more quickly when someone is exercising, and their body needs more oxygen to get to the muscles than when someone is resting.
What is the effect of arrhythmias?
Arrhythmias can reduce how effective the heart is at beating and pumping blood around the body. This is because the heart’s chambers are uncoordinated or unable to pump properly.
You might feel:
- A pounding or fluttering feeling in your chest
- Dizzy or lightheaded
- Loss of consciousness (fainting)
However, some arrhythmias are more persistent, or can have serious consequences. As they reduce how effective the heart is at pumping blood around the body, they can be life-threatening.
How are arrhythmias treated?
- Taking Anti arrhythmic medication
- Monitored via an ICD
Types of arrhythmia
Below are different types of arrhythmia that may occur in people with cardiomyopathy.
- Atrial fibrillation (AF)
- Atrial flutter
- Bundle branch block (BBB)
- Heart block
- Ventricular fibrillation (VF)
- Ventricular tachycardia (VT)
Haemochromatosis and cardiomyopathy
What is haemochromatosis?
Haemochromatosis is an inherited condition, where excessive levels of iron are absorbed by the body. Iron from the diet is normally stored in the bone marrow, with small amounts stored in the liver to form new red blood cells.
However, in haemochromatosis, an excessive amount of iron (more than the body needs) is absorbed. The iron levels build up as the body is unable to get rid of it. This is called an ‘iron overload’.
Over time this overload leads to a build up of iron in different parts of the body; including the liver, pancreas and joints.
How does haemochromatosis cause cardiomyopathy?
As well as building up in other organs, iron levels can build up in the heart. This happens
slowly, and the heart may continue to work well until the overload becomes quite advanced. This can cause restrictive or dilated cardiomyopathy.
Knowing that iron overload can affect the heart can help to identify any early symptoms of this and allows treatment to be started earlier. The sooner treatment is started the more likely it is to be effective in reducing and controlling symptoms.
Cardiomyopathy caused by haemochromatosis usually causes symptoms that are collectively known
as ‘heart failure’.
As well as treating the symptoms of cardiomyopathy, treatment for the underlying haemochromatosis will also be given.