Arrhythmias are abnormalities in heart rate or rhythm. They arise from disruption of the electrical conduction system within cardiac tissue, which must be properly synchronized to maintain normal heart rhythm. Arrhythmias often occur in people who have some form of underlying heart disease, such as coronary artery disease, but a healthy heart is not immune to abnormal heart rate or rhythm (UoMMC 2012; MayoClinic 2011a; NHLBI 2011a,b).
There are two main categories of arrhythmias: tachycardia, in which the heart beats too fast, and bradycardia, in which the heart beats too slow. Fibrillation, in which the heart beats irregularly or “quivers”, is an important heart rhythm irregularity sometimes classified as a subcategory of tachycardia (UoMMC 2012; Jeong 2012; MayoClinic 2011a; NHLBI 2011a,b; Katz 1999).
Arrhythmias are further classified depending on which part of the heart they affect; the 2 upper chambers of the heart are called atria and the 2 lower chambers are called ventricles (NHLBI 2011b).
Some arrhythmias, such as ventricular fibrillation, can be immediately life threatening because they impact the pumping action of the heart substantially enough to disrupt blood supply to the body, potentially leading to sudden cardiac death, one of the most common causes of death in the United States (Estes 2011; Tung 2012; Chugh 2008; MayoClinic 2011a). Atrial fibrillation is a common type of arrhythmia that is usually not life-threatening in its own right, but can dramatically increase risk of having a stroke because a blood clot can form within the fibrillating atria and then lodge in blood vessel(s) that supply the brain (Narumiya 2003; Schmidt 2011; Prasad 2012). Still other arrhythmias, such as premature ventricular contractions, are fairly common and not usually considered significant health threats (UoMMC 2012; NHLBI 2011b).
Conventional arrhythmia treatment strategies rely on pharmaceutical treatment with drugs that often have potentially serious side effects, electrical synchronization procedures, or surgical procedures that work in a certain percentage of patients.
There are lifestyle considerations and several natural compounds including magnesium and coenzyme Q10 that have been shown to support for a healthy heart and reduce occurrence of arrhythmia (Singh 2007; Weant 2005; Nagai 1985; Baggio 1993; Guerrera 2009; Bachman 2003; Falco 2012; Pepe 2010; Wu 2012).
This protocol will explain the different types of arrhythmias, their causes, and how they affect the heart. Conventional treatment strategies, including medications and procedures, will be reviewed and some promising new antiarrhythmic drugs will be examined. The important, though sometimes neglected role of diet and lifestyle considerations in arrhythmia prevention and management will also be discussed, and data on a number of scientifically studied natural compounds that may help maintain a healthy heart rhythm will be presented.