Fletcher Allen, a Vermont university hospital and medical center, serves all of
Vermont and the northern New York region. Located in Burlington, Fletcher Allen is a regional, academic healthcare center and teaching hospital in alliance with the University of Vermont.
Arrhythmias (Heart Rhythm Disorders)
- 62 Tilley Drive
South Burlington, VT 05403
- Phone: 802-847-9675
- Fax: 802-847-2533
- Monday-Friday, 8AM-5PM
Arrhythmias occur when the electrical impulses in your heart aren’t working properly, causing your heart to beat too fast, too slow or irregularly. These disorders can occur in the upper chambers of the heart, known as the atrium, or the lower chambers, the ventricles.
Arrhythmias are common problems affecting millions of people nationwide. In many cases, they are not serious, with occasional irregular heartbeats that may produce a fluttering feeling called palpitations. However, some heart arrhythmias can be severe and possibly life threatening.
Arrhythmias: What you Need to Know
Experienced, Expert Care
At Fletcher Allen, we are proud to be among a select group of medical centers able to provide the highest level of care to patients with arrhythmias. Our specially trained heart rhythm team includes internationally recognized experts, several of whom were recruited from the world-renowned Cardiac Arrhythmia Research Institute, a center on the frontiers of heart rhythm care.
We are fully committed to providing a caring, personal approach to every patient and family we see. We spend as much time with you as you need – answering all your questions and working together to develop a treatment plan that works for you.
As a university hospital, our highly skilled specialists are active in teaching and research – providing care backed by a deep grounding in the latest medical science.
What are Arrhythmias?
Approximately four million Americans have arrhythmias, or irregular heart beats. However, many of these disorders go undetected because people do not recognize the symptoms.
At Fletcher Allen, we provide a high level of expertise to treat the full spectrum of heart rhythm conditions.
Heart Rhythm abnormalities fall under the three categories of arrhythmias:
- Fast heart rhythms
- Slow heart rhythms
- Uncoordinated rhythms
Arrhythmias may cause the heart to beat too slow (less than 60 beats per minute is bradycardia) or too fast (greater than 100 beats per minute is tachycardia).
Arrhythmias may occur from the upper two chambers of the heart, called atrial arrhythmias or supraventricular arrhythmias or may originate from the lower chambers of the heart, called the ventricles. Some arrhythmias are benign, and have little, if any, clinical significance.
Other arrhythmias are malignant, and may be life threatening. A given arrhythmia may have different clinical significance in different individuals, primarily depending upon whether or not the individual has structural heart disease, or most importantly, diminished cardiac performance (congestive heart failure).
Fast Heart Rhythms
Fast heart rhythms include:
Atrial Fibrillation - Atrial fibrillation is one of the most common types of heart rhythm disorders, affecting more than 2 million people nationwide. It occurs when the atria, or upper chambers of the heart, fail to beat in a synchronized manner. As a result, the heart doesn’t squeeze normally; blood may pool and form a clot, which can lead to a stroke. In many patients with atrial fibrillation, the heart beats too quickly.
Ventricular Tachycardia - A rapid heart rate that starts in the heart’s lower chambers, or ventricles. It is often associated with other heart problems and may be life threatening. During fast heart rhythms, the heart doesn’t have enough time to fill completely before it contracts, which leads to less blood pumped to the body.
Supraventricular Tachycardia (SVT) - SVT is a rapid heart rate that starts above the heart’s lower chambers. SVT is not typically life threatening but can cause palpitations, fatigue, shortness of breath or even passing out. Episodes of SVT frequently start and/or stop suddenly. They can last for minutes or hours. SVT can have many different causes, including an extra electrical connection between the upper and lower chambers.
Sudden Cardiac Arrest - Sudden cardiac arrest is a medical emergency that occurs when a patient’s heart suddenly stops functioning. During cardiac arrest, blood stops flowing to the body. Without immediate treatment, this can result in death. Sudden cardiac arrest usually occurs in conjunction with other heart problems such as coronary artery disease.
Patients with a previous heart attack, impaired pumping function of the heart muscle or rapid heart rhythms are at increased risk for sudden cardiac arrest. It is critical to identify patients at risk for sudden cardiac arrest so that treatment can be aimed at prevention and appropriate precautions.
Slow Heart Rhythms
Bradycardia - Bradycardia is an unnaturally slow heart rate – usually less than 60 times a minute at rest. A normal heart rate ranges from 60 to 100 beats per minute.
Some people may have bradycardia without serious symptoms or complications. However, it can be a serious health problem if the heart doesn’t pump enough blood to the body and brain. Bradycardia results from a disruption in the heart’s normal electrical impulses that control the rate of pumping.
Uncoordinated Heart Rhythms
Ventricular Dyssynchrony - Ventricular dyssynchrony is a condition where the ventricles, or lower chambers of the heart, beat out of sync, instead of together. Ventricular dyssynchrony affects about one in three people with heart failure. It occurs when the electrical signal passing through one ventricle is slower than the other ventricle.
One ventricle beats a fraction of a second before the other one. This results in reduced pumping power and less blood pumped out of the heart, forcing your already weakened heart to work harder. Uncoordinated pumping can lead to dangerous changes in the size and shape of the heart and more severe heart rhythm problems.
Symptoms of Arrhythmias
Symptoms of arrhythmia can include:
Passing out or nearly passing out
- Rapid heart rate.
- Irregular heart rhythm. You should be able to march to the rhythm of your heartbeat.
- Strange sensations in your chest. Sometimes described as "fluttering," "fizzy-feeling," "feels like my heart is beating in my throat," or "feels like butterfly wings beating in my chest”
- Unusual amount of fatigue when doing usual daily activities
- Unusually short of breath with minimal amount of exertion
If you experience any of these symptoms, contact your doctor. If appropriate, your doctor may recommend that you seek further treatment from a cardiologist, or a physician who specializes in the treatment of arrhythmias known as an electrophysiologist.
Arrhythmias: Diagnosis and Treatment
Fletcher Allen’s highly skilled and experienced heart rhythm team offers the latest diagnostic tests and procedures to help determine the cause of your problem.
We have the full range of diagnostic therapies at our disposal, giving patients access to the best, scientifically proven methods for detecting heart rhythm disorders.
Throughout this process, we work closely with you to make sure you are fully informed at each step of the way.