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Diagnosis of Arrhythmias

Your doctor at Dignity Health can review your medical and health history, physical exam results, risk factors, and findings from different tests to help diagnose the cause of your cardiac arrhythmia. Some of the tests may include:

  • Electrocardiogram (EKG), which shows the rate and rhythm of your heartbeat 
  • Echocardiogram (ECG), which creates pictures of your moving heart and valves 
  • Holter monitor and event monitors, which monitor your heart rhythm for days or weeks 
  • Stress testing, which shows what activity your heart can tolerate

These tests will help your doctor figure out the source of your arrhythmia. Your care team will then know how to best go about treating it. 


Treatment for arrhythmia may involve trying to reset your heart’s rhythm with medication, procedures, or surgery, including: 

  • Catheter ablation is used to damage a small spot of heart tissue to create a block along the route that is causing your arrhythmia. 
  • Pacemaker. This implanted device controls abnormal heart rhythms. It emits electrical pulses to guide your heartbeat back to a regular rate. 
  • Implantable cardioverter defibrillators are recommended if you are at high risk of developing a dangerously fast or irregular heartbeat, ventricular tachycardia, or fibrillation. This device is similar to a pacemaker and is implanted under the skin near your collarbone. It monitors your heart rhythm continuously and will send out a low or high energy shock to reset the heart to a normal rhythm. It does not prevent arrhythmia but does treat it. 
  • Maze procedure is used to interfere with stray electrical impulses. It creates a maze of scar tissue that does not conduct electricity to do so and is only used in patients who haven’t responded to other treatments. 
  • Coronary artery bypass surgery is used to treat severe coronary artery disease and may improve blood flow to your heart. 

If left untreated, mild arrhythmias can develop into more serious conditions such as ventricular fibrillation. They can also lead to dangerous and life-threatening conditions such as a stroke. If you think you may have an arrhythmia, talk to your Dignity Health doctor for proper monitoring and diagnosis. 

The difference between arrhythmia and heart attack 

The fluttering or palpitations that are characteristic of arrhythmia can be similar to the symptoms of heart attack. While some heart attacks are sudden and quite intense, most begin slowly. This is why it is vital to keep track of mild pain and discomfort. If you are experiencing chest pressure, discomfort in your arms, back, stomach, or neck, shortness of breath, sweat, or nausea with heart palpitations, you may be having a heart attack. Symptoms of a heart attack in women especially can be very subtle. 

If you think you may be having a heart attack, seek medical attention immediately by calling 911.

The information contained in this article is meant for educational purposes only and should not replace advice from your healthcare provider.