Cardiac Arrhythmia (Abnormal Heart Rhythm) | MedStar Health

Restoring irregular heartbeats to a healthy rhythm

An arrhythmia is an abnormal or irregular heartbeat caused by a disturbance in the electrical impulses that coordinate your heart rate. This can cause your heart to beat too fast, too slow or irregularly. When the heart doesn’t beat properly, it can’t effectively pump blood to your body.

Some arrhythmias may be harmless, but others can be life-threatening or a sign of a further heart problem. They also can increase your risk of stroke and heart failure if not treated. This is why it’s important to have your heart evaluated by an electrophysiologist, a heart rhythm specialist who diagnoses and treats arrhythmias.

The physicians in our Cardiac Electrophysiology Program are highly trained advanced subspecialists who manage even the most complex arrhythmias.


What are the symptoms of cardiac arrhythmia?

Some people with an arrhythmia don’t feel any symptoms. Others describe their symptoms as feeling like their heart is racing, slowing down or skipping a beat.

Additional symptoms may include:


Arrhythmias can be caused by many things, including:

Types of cardiac arrhythmias

A normal heart beats 60 to 100 times a minute. Arrhythmias are most often classified by the speed of heart rate they cause.

  • Tachycardia: The most common type of arrhythmia, tachycardia causes the heart to beat faster than 100 beats a minute.

  • Bradycardia: This refers to a slow heartbeat, less than 60 beats a minute.

Arrhythmias also are classified by where they begin in the heart: the atria (the upper chambers of the heart) or the ventricles (the lower chambers). These can include:


Cardiac Catheterization

Cardiac catheterization is a minimally invasive way to diagnose and treat a variety of heart and vascular conditions by guiding thin, flexible tubes called catheters through blood vessels to problem areas.

Chest X-ray

Chest X-rays use a small dose of radiation to create pictures of the structures inside the chest, including the lungs, heart, and chest wall. 


An echocardiogram uses high-frequency sound waves to create images of your heart.

Electrocardiogram (ECG)

An electrocardiogram, also known as an ECG, measures the heart’s electrical activity.


Electrophysiology testing is used to evaluate the cause and location of an abnormal heartbeat (known as an arrhythmia).

Event Monitors

An event monitor is a small device that records the heart’s electrical activity. It’s similar to an electrocardiogram, but where an electrocardiogram takes place over a few minutes, an event monitor measures heart rhythms over a much longer time.

Holter Monitors

A Holter monitor is a small device that records the heart’s electrical activity. It’s similar to an electrocardiogram, but whereas an electrocardiogram records over a few minutes, a Holter monitor records over the course of a day or two.

Loop Recorder

A loop recorder is a device that’s implanted underneath the skin of your chest to record your heart rhythm for up to 3 years.

Stress Tests

Stress tests are used to assess how your heart works during physical activity. There are several types of stress tests, including treadmill or bike stress tests, nuclear stress tests, stress echocardiograms, and chemically induced stress tests.

Tilt Table Test

Tilt table testing allows your doctor to determine the cause of explained fainting while monitoring changes in your blood pressure and heart rate while tilted at different angles.

Arrhythmia treatments

Treatment will depend on the type and severity of your arrhythmia. In some cases, medication and lifestyle changes may be enough to manage the condition. More advanced treatment options may include electrical devices, minimally invasive procedures or surgery..

Cardiac Ablation

Cardiac ablation uses heat or cold to destroy heart tissue causing abnormal heart rhythms known as arrhythmias.

Catheter Ablation For Atrial Fibrillation

Catheter ablation is a minimally invasive procedure that uses heat or cold to destroy heart tissue causing atrial fibrillation, a type of abnormal heart rhythm.

Leadless Pacemakers

A leadless pacemaker is a small capsule placed in the heart’s right ventricle that delivers an electric pulse to regulate the heartbeat.


A pacemaker is a device that helps control various types of heart rhythm disorders.

Additional information

Electrophysiology Program

We are leaders in developing and using the latest procedures and technologies to treat heart rhythm disorders, and our cardiac electrophysiology laboratory is one of the most sophisticated in North America.

Ask MedStar Heart & Vascular Institute

Have general questions for our heart and vascular program? Email us at If you have clinically-specific questions, please contact your physician’s office.