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Cardiac arrhythmia and COVID-19: Here are answers to some frequently-asked questions

It has been observed that the condition of most patients suffering from heart abnormalities have been worsening during the pandemic, says Dr AM Karthigesan, a senior consultant cardiologist at the Apollo Hospitals, Chennai, Madurai, Trichy, and Nellore

By: Lifestyle Desk | New Delhi |
September 8, 2020 5:30:33 pm
Cardiac arrhythmia and COVID-19, things to know about cardiac arrhythmia, health, pandemic, indian express newsOnce you spot signs like dizziness, light-headedness, sudden palpitation, hypertension, vomiting, sweating, and shortness of breath, chest pain, immediately consult the doctor. (Source: Getty Images/Thinkstock)

The ongoing pandemic has raised one too many questions on the human immune system, the nature of the body and its ability to defend itself. New discoveries related to the novel coronavirus — and its effects — continue to happen every day. From how it affects the respiratory system, to its effect on the digestive system and numerous other organs.

As such, what is the information out there on the heart, perhaps the most important organ in the body? Dr AM Karthigesan, a senior consultant cardiologist and electrophysiologist, Apollo Hospitals, Chennai, Madurai, Trichy, and Nellore, answers some frequently asked questions related to the organ, especially with reference to cardiac arrhythmia. Read on.

What is cardiac arrhythmia and how common is it in India?

The human heart beats at the rate of 50-100 beats per minute and any fluctuation in this rate, either too slow or too fast is referred to as cardiac arrhythmia. When the heart beats abnormally fast it is called tachycardia and when it becomes extremely slow, it is called bradycardia. While there are no exact estimates available for the incidence of arrhythmias, it roughly affects 8-10 million Indians every year.

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What are some of the red flags for detecting arrhythmia?

– Rapid heartbeat or pounding in the chest
– Fatigue or weakness
– Dizziness or lightheadedness
– Fainting or near-fainting spells
– Shortness of breath
– Chest pain or pressure
– In extreme cases, collapse and sudden cardiac arrest

Among the most striking symptoms are palpitation and fainting episodes. Awareness about fainting is low and it is commonly thought to be a reserve function of the brain that happens due to loss of consciousness. However, fainting can be a warning sign for life-threatening arrhythmias.

What causes arrhythmia and who is at risk?

Arrhythmias can be caused due to a variety of reasons such as high blood pressure, diabetes, sleep apnea, blocked arteries, structural and valvular abnormalities, hyper and hypothyroidism, familial electrical disorders, a heart attack and related scarring of the heart tissue and infection including the most recent COVID-19.

While arrhythmia can affect people across age groups, those above the age of 60 are at a higher risk. People with related health disorders such as hypertension, diabetes, cholesterol and existing heart problems are highly vulnerable.

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Is arrhythmia as fatal as other heart conditions and what are the fatalities it can lead to?

Arrhythmias can majorly cause palpitations, breathing difficulties, fatigue, tiredness, and breathlessness. However, in more severe cases, it can lead to fatalities like sudden cardiac arrest. Most people are unable to differentiate between a sudden cardiac arrest and a heart attack. A heart attack occurs when the blood vessels that are supplying oxygen to the heart are blocked resulting in chest pain, whereas, a sudden cardiac arrest happens when erratic heart beating stops the heart, leading to sudden death. Those who had heart attacks earlier and experienced heart failure-related symptoms due to weak pumping function of the heart are genetically prone to develop fatal arrhythmia.

Recently, there have been ongoing conversations on the impact of COVID-19 on cardiovascular health. Is there any correlation between arrhythmia and the virus?

In general, any viral infection of the heart can precipitate fatal or non-fatal cardiac arrhythmias, and COVID-19 not an exception. However, in many elderly COVID-19 pneumonia patients it has been seen over the last few months that many of them develop atrial arrhythmias (erratic beating of the upper chambers of the heart) which need aggressive medical treatment to prevent its negative impact on patient recovery.

What are the challenges that arrhythmia patients can face amid the current pandemic?

It has been observed that the condition of most patients suffering from heart abnormalities have been worsening during the pandemic. Many patients with heart problems, diabetes or cancer have even lost their lives due to COVID-19. Patients with a medical background of certain diseases are advised to be very careful and cautious. They should take proper medication and be in touch with their family doctors or cardiologists through online consultation. In case they identify any symptom, they should consult the doctor immediately. Last but not the least, it is mandatory to maintain social distancing and wear masks.

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How can arrhythmia be treated and what are the precautionary measures a patient should keep in mind especially during the current times when seeking medical consultation in-person has its own limitations?

Broadly, there two ways of treating these arrhythmias: the medical aspect and the interventional aspect. Type of arrhythmia to be diagnosed by simple ECG or a Holter/ambulatory ECG monitoring is also undertaken to detect disturbances in the heart’s rhythm. After establishing the diagnosis, arrhythmias can be treated medically or in case of patients who experience a higher frequency of palpitations, an invasive procedure called radiofrequency catheter ablation is performed. The treatment is decided based on the diagnosis and it can be a combination of medication, implantable devices and invasive therapies.

Precautionary measures for arrhythmia patients:

– Take your medications regularly on time
– Monitor your pulse
– Consume a healthy and well-balanced diet
– Keep your cholesterol and blood pressure under control
– Avoid tobacco and consumption of alcohol

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📣 The above article is for information purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the guidance of your doctor or other qualified health professional for any questions you may have regarding your health or a medical condition.

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