Medical questions & health advice by board certified doctors
"Can a heart arrhythmia cause sudden cardiac death?"
Now that my mother has been diagnosed with a heart arrhythmia I'm a nervous wreck. Heart disease runs in our family and many members have died from sudden cardiac arrest. Is this common with an arrhythmia?
This is an important question to discuss with your cardiologist. An arrhythmia is the term we use to describe an abnormal heart rhythm. The heart normally is controlled by a pacemaker called the sinus node. This is a small collection of heart cells on the top of the heart that controls the heart rate. An arrhythmia occurs when the heart's electrical activity comes under control of a source other than the sinus node. There are many different types of arrhythmias and not all of them have the same symptoms. While there are too many to discuss here, I can say that some arrhythmias are always deadly, some can be deadly (but are usually not), and others are almost never deadly. In addition, not many of them specifically run in families. However, if you have a strong family history of people that have died of sudden cardiac arrest, then you should get evaluated by a cardiologist. One possible reason for the family deaths is a condition called familial hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. This is a disease where the heart enlarges abnormally and can result in deadly arrhythmias. A cardiologist would want to perform an electrocardiogram to look for abnormalities in your heart's electrical conduction. He or she might also want to perform an echocardiogram which can rule out an enlarged heart. A full evaluation would likely give you a diagnosis, or most likely a piece of mind that you are okay.
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