Arrhythmia Symptoms: 11 Signs, Risk Factors & Diagnosis

Updated in March 2023

Arrhythmia symptoms may include palpitations, a racing heart, shortness of breath or sudden fatigue. It can occur in people with a healthy heart or with those already diagnosed with a cardiac disease, like hypertension or heart failure. 

While arrhythmias can occur at any age, they are most commonly seen in older adults. They are frequently caught during routine screens, and not from symptoms. Nonetheless, some patients may report symptoms like palpitations, weakness, dizziness, general malaise, chest pain, pallor or cold sweats. These are signs of a very dangerous cardiac rhythm. 

If you notice any symptoms that make you suspect your may have an arrhythmia, you should proceed to the hospital for urgent assessment. You should also see a cardiologist for monitoring and treatment, to prevent complications.

Main symptoms

The most common symptoms of an arrhythmia are: 

  1. Palpitations
  2. Faster or slower heart rate
  3. Chest pain
  4. Shortness of breath
  5. The feeling of a knot in your throat
  6. Fatigue
  7. Weakness
  8. Dizziness or fainting
  9. General malaise
  10. Anxiety
  11. Cold sweats 

If you notice any of these symptoms, proceed to the closest hospital or call an ambulance. Also check-out our list of heart disease symptoms, as having heart disease can increase your risk for the development of an arrhythmia. 

Risk factors

Arrhythmias can emerge for no apparent reason, or they can occur with normal aging. Some risk factors that can increase the risk for an arrhythmia include: 

  • Cardiovascular diseases, like atherosclerosis, infarct or heart failure 
  • History of cardiac surgery
  • High blood pressure
  • History of congenital heart disease 
  • Thyroid problems, like hyperthyroidism 
  • Diabetes, particularly when uncontrolled with constantly high glucose levels 
  • Sleep apnea
  • Chemical imbalances in the blood, like changes in potassium, sodium, magnesium and calcium levels 
  • Medications like digoxin, salbutamol or phenylephrine 
  • Chagas disease
  • Anemia
  • Tobacco use;
  • Excessive caffeine consumption

Excessive alcohol intake or using drugs, like cocaine or amphetamines, can also alter heart rhythms and put you at risk for arrhythmias. 

Confirming a diagnosis

A cardiac arrhythmia is confirmed by a cardiologist, who will assess your health history and symptoms, and evaluate your medications or possible drug use. 

Tests that diagnose arrhythmias 

In addition to a medical assessment, the doctor may also order lab tests which can confirm a diagnosis and identify any arrhythmias, like:

  • ECG
  • Lab tests like a CBC and electrolytes 
  • Blood tests like troponin to evaluate cardiac contractions 
  • Thyroid tests
  • 24 hour holter tests 
  • Stress tests

Other exams that can be ordered include an echocardiogram, CT scan or MRI.

Treatment options

Treatment for arrhythmia depends on the symptoms, severity and other present risk factors. Generally, in mild cases, treatment may involve simple lifestyle changes with periodic medical checks. Some doctors may discontinue prescriptions that are contributing to arrhythmias. 

In very serious cases of arrhythmia, treatment may involve prescription medication or even surgery.

How to prevent arrhythmia

Some lifestyle changes may help to prevent the development of an arrhythmia, such as: 

  • Maintaining a healthy and balanced diet
  • Exercising regularly
  • Losing weight if you are overweight or obese
  • Quitting smoking
  • Reducing or avoid alcohol intake
  • Avoiding the use of cardiac stimulants, like phenylephrine 

In addition, it is important to prevent stressful situations or anxiety triggers, to reduce both the change of an arrhythmia or other heart disease.