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An arrhythmia is an abnormality in the timing or pattern of the heartbeat. Arrhythmias may cause the heart to beat too rapidly, too slowly, or irregularly. They are common and may cause a wide variety of symptoms, such as a racing, skipping or fluttering sensation (called palpitations) in your chest.
Cardiac arrhythmias also may cause light-headedness, fainting, chest pain, shortness of breath, fatigue or no symptoms at all. Many types of arrhythmia are merely nuisances, other types may be serious problems because they cause the patient to develop heart failure, pass out or even die suddenly when the heart beats too slowly or too rapidly to pump blood to the body.
Supraventricular tachycardia is a series of rapid heartbeats that begin in or involve the upper chambers (atria) of the heart. SVT can cause the heart to beat very rapidly or erratically. As a result, the heart may beat inefficiently, and the body may receive an inadequate blood supply. There are three major types of SVT including:
Typical atrial flutter results from a single "short-circuit" in the right atrium. This short-circuit causes the atria to beat at about 300 beats per minute while the lower chamber of the heart (the ventricles) beat at a slower rate (often 75 to 150 beats per minute).
Like atrial fibrillation, atrial flutter occurs most commonly in elderly patients and those with other types of heart disease. It also can cause a wide variety of symptoms and increase the risk of developing a stroke. Treatment options include various types of medications as well as catheter ablation, which cures the problem in most patients.
Less commonly, a patient may have atypical atrial flutter which results from a short circuit in an unusual location like the left atrium or near scar tissue. Some patients have atrial tachycardia, a rapidly firing focus which may originate from either atria. These arrhythmias also usually warrant medical therapy or complex catheter ablation.