Arrhythmia

Author: OncoLink Team
Last Reviewed:

What is arrhythmia?

Arrhythmia is when your heart is not beating normally. It can be too fast or too slow. Arrhythmia is common and there are many types. 

What causes arrhythmia?

Cancer and its treatment can cause changes in your hormone and electrolyte (minerals in your body, like potassium, calcium, and magnesium) levels. This can happen when you are having severe nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, or if you aren’t eating enough. These imbalances can cause an arrhythmia. A tumor near the heart can also cause an arrhythmia. Radiation to the chest can damage the heart muscle which can lead to arrhythmia. This can occur months to years after treatment. 

What are the signs and symptoms of arrhythmia?

Some people have no signs or symptoms of an arrhythmia. For some, it is found during a routine check of the heart. Signs of an arrhythmia can be:

  • Chest pain.
  • Feeling lightheaded.
  • Feeling more tired than usual (fatigue). 
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Weakness.
  • Feeling like your heart it racing or skipping a beat (palpitations).

How do I manage arrhythmia?

Once the cause of the arrhythmia is found, the cause will be treated. It can usually be treated with medication. In addition to medication, self-care activities that may help manage arrhythmias include:

  • Limiting the use of caffeine, alcohol, tobacco, and cough medicines.
  • Being active at a level that is comfortable for you, on a daily basis. Talk with your provider about a plan for physical fitness that is right for you.
  • Limiting salt in your diet.

When should I call my care team?

If you are having signs of an irregular heartbeat, contact your care provider. If you faint or pass out, contact your care provider right away. 

References

Abeloff M, Niederhuber JE, Armitage JO, Doroshow, JH, Kastan MB, Tepper, JE. Abeloff’s Clinical Oncology. 5th edition. Philadelphia: Churchill Livingstone; 2014.

American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO). (2018). Heart Problems. Retrieved from https://www.cancer.net/coping-with-cancer/physical-emotional-and-social-effects-cancer/managing-physical-side-effects/heart-problems 

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