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Variation from the heartbeat's normal rate or rhythm, caused by problems in the heart's pacemaker or in nerves conducting its signals. Occasional arrhythmias are normal. Tachycardia is a fast regular rhythm; bradycardia is a slow rhythm. Premature atrial or ventricular beats are extra contractions in normal rhythm. Ongoing arrhythmia in some heart diseases can reduce the heart's ability to supply the body with blood and can lead to heart failure. Severe arrhythmias can trigger atrial fibrillation or ventricular fibrillation. Arrhythmias are detected by electrocardiography and treated by electric shock (often with an implanted pacemaker) or by drugs such as quinidine and digitalis.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on arrhythmia, visit Britannica.com.