What is sinus arrhythmia?

Sinus arrhythmia is an interruption in the heartbeat that originates in the heart's sinus node, where the heart's natural pacemaker is located. Various problems related to the natural stimulation of the heart can cause irregular heartbeats. Sinus arrhythmia is usually benign, but in some cases it can be a cause for concern. Other arrhythmias located in this node, such as sinus bradycardia, where the heart beats too slowly, or sinus tachycardia, where the heart beats too fast, can be serious medical problems.

Children and young adults commonly have a natural sinus arrhythmia that resolves with age. Another common form of sinus arrhythmia is a respiratory sinus arrhythmia, characterized by small variations in the heartbeat associated with breathing. In patients with this type of arrhythmia, the heartbeat changes slightly with each breath, but the patient is not in danger.

Sinus arrhythmia can also occur in response to medications, stress, environmental factors, and recreational drugs. Some of these arrhythmias can become dangerous if not corrected. Patients who are repeatedly exposed to common causes of long-term cardiac arrhythmias can damage their hearts. This can lead to the development of a more serious arrhythmia that can put the patient at risk for a heart attack or other medical complications.

A doctor may hear a sinus arrhythmia during a physical exam. If a doctor identifies irregularities in a patient's heartbeat, an electrocardiograph may be recommended. In this test, leads are attached to the patient's chest and the electrical rhythms of the heart are measured. A printout shows the patient's heartbeat patterns and this information can be used to diagnose a patient or to obtain more information about a heart problem. If a cause for concern is identified, the patient can meet with the doctor to discuss the situation and discuss treatment options.

If a patient has a history of sinus arrhythmia, it will be noted on the chart along with the result of any medical tests performed on the heart. This information can be helpful to other care providers, alerting them to the fact that the arrhythmia has been observed and worked on. Patients changing doctors should be sure to request copies of their medical records so that they can be brought to their first appointments. Having complete patient records increases the quality of care and will help a doctor provide ongoing long-term care.

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