Arrhythmia (Irregular Heartbeat)

Arrhythmia is an irregular heartbeat caused by a malfunction in the electrical impulses to the heart.

The UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute's Cardiac Electrophysiology Program treats cardiac arrhythmias, as well as other heart disorders associated with a high risk of sudden death.

Contact the UPMC Heart & Vascular Institute

Request an appointment online, call 1-855-UPMC-HVI (876-2484), or email us.

What Is Arrhythmia?

During arrhythmia, the heart either beats:

Almost everyone experiences an occasional skipped heart beat, fluttering, or racing heart beat. While most events are harmless, some people have arrhythmias that are bothersome and sometimes dangerous.

Why choose UPMC's Cardiac Electrophysiology Program?

The UPMC Cardiac Electrophysiology Program is the largest in western Pennsylvania and one of the largest in the United States.

We offer a full range of treatments for the most therapy-resistant cases of cardiac arrhythmias, including:

  • Arrhythmia medications
  • Medical devices, such pacemakers and defibrillators
  • Radio-frequency ablation
  • Catheter- and surgical-based procedures

What distinguishes our electrophysiology program?

  • Our subspecialty centers — for evaluating and managing atrial arrhythmias, as well as infected implanted pacemakers and other heart-rhythm devices.
  • Our program leaders — pioneers of novel ablation procedures for restoring normal heart rhythm.

To make an appointment at the UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute's Cardiac Electrophysiology Program, complete an appointment request form or call 1-855-UPMC-HVI (876-2484). 

Arrhythmia Symptoms and Diagnosis

Some cardiac arrhythmias occur without symptoms.

Others may cause noticeable symptoms, such as:

  • Heart palpitations or fluttering
  • Skipped or extra heart beat
  • Weakness
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness or light-headedness
  • Fainting
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest discomfort

Diagnosing arrhythmia

At the UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute, your initial evaluation for arrhythmia includes:

  • A thorough physical exam.
  • An evaluation of your medical history.
  • An assessment of your symptoms.

In particular, the doctor will listen to your heart with a stethoscope.

Following your exam, your doctor may order additional tests to help confirm an arrhythmia diagnosis.

These tests may include:

  • Blood tests
  • Chest x-rays
  • An electrocardiogram
  • An echocardiogram
  • A Holter monitor
  • An event recorder
  • An electrophysiology (EP) study

If your doctor detects an arrhythmia, he or she will work with you to determine the best cardiac arrhythmia treatment.

Testing results
Your doctor or nurse will tell you when to expect your test results and will call you when they're available.

To make an appointment at the UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute's Cardiac Electrophysiology Program, complete an appointment request form or call 1-855-UPMC-HVI (876-2484).

Learn More About Heart Arrhythmia Symptoms and Testing

UPMC Patient Education Materials

From our Health Library at UPMC.com

Arrhythmia Treatment

Some less serious types of arrhythmia do not require treatment, but you should have regular checkups.

If you do require treatment, most often your doctor will prescribe heart arrhythmia medications to control your irregular heartbeat.

At the UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute's Cardiac Electrophysiology Program, the goals of arrhythmia treatment are to:

  • Minimize stroke risk
  • Control heart rate
  • Restore normal heart rhythm

Heart arrhythmia medications

To slow the heart rate:

  • Digitalis
  • Verapamil
  • Diltiazem
  • Metoprolol
  • Atenolol

To maintain a regular heart rhythm:

  • Sotalol
  • Propafenone
  • Amiodarone

To prevent clot formation and help reduce the risk of stroke:

  • Blood thinners such as:
    • Warfarin (Coumadin®)
    • Aspirin

Procedures for treating arrhythmia

  • Cardioversion — delivers an electrical shock to “reset” the heart by converting an irregular or fast heart rhythm to a normal heart rhythm.
  • Ablation therapy — a minimally invasive procedure to remove or destroy (ablate) the abnormal tissue responsible for the arrhythmia.

During ablation therapy, we position a thin wire (catheter) inside your heart near the pulmonary veins.

Types of ablation therapy for arrhythmias

  • Radio-frequency ablation uses radio energy to apply heat to the tip of the catheter to cauterize the heart tissue.
  • Cryoablation uses extreme cold to freeze and scar the heart tissue.

Our program leaders are experts at ablation techniques and have authored book chapters and research publications on the subject.

Exploring new arrhythmia treatments

Our doctors are performing research into the underlying causes of heart arrhythmias and are using their discoveries to develop improved methods for diagnosing and treating them.

To make an appointment at the UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute's Cardiac Electrophysiology Program, complete an appointment request form or call 1-855-UPMC-HVI (876-2484).

Learn More About Heart Arrhythmia Medications and Treatments

UPMC Patient Education Materials

Emmi ™ Patient Education Videos

Arrhythmia Educational Materials

The UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute offers educational information and videos about arrhythmias and other heart and vascular diseases and treatments.

Many people find these resources helpful in answering their questions about their condition and preparing them for their procedure or diagnostic test.

The links below will open a new browser window.

UPMC Patient Education Materials

Emmi ™ Patient Education Videos

From our Health Library at UPMC.com

To make an appointment at the UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute's Cardiac Electrophysiology Program, complete an appointment request form or call 1-855-UPMC-HVI (876-2484).