Symptoms of heart rhythm abnormalities

Patients with heart rhythm disturbances can present with a wide variety of symptoms when the heart is beating too fast (tachycardia) or too slow (bradycardia).

Occasionally an abnormality can be detected that might need further investigation in an otherwise healthy person with no symptoms.


The most common symptom that people experience is palpitations. This simply means an awareness of your heart beating. Although this is frequently distressing it is rarely dangerous and is not necessarily associated with a heart rhythm abnormality.

Palpitations can be associated with breathlessness, fatigue, chest discomfort, light-headedness, and even rarely blackouts. Occasionally these symptoms can occur in the absence of palpitations.

Conditions associated with palpitations include:

  • Premature ventricular contractions (PVCs or ectopics)
  • Supraventricular tachycardia (SVT)
  • Atrial flutter or fibrillation (AF)
  • Atrial tachycardia
  • Ventricular tachycardia (VT)

Syncope (Blackouts)

Blackouts or a transient loss of consciousness can be very alarming. Prompt assessment, particularly if recurrent, is critical to either provide reassurance or offer treatment. Blackouts can be due to both cardiac and neurological causes.

Cardiac causes of blackouts include:

  • Simple faints
  • Vasovagal syncope
  • Sinus node disease
  • Heart block

If you have experienced symptoms you might think are related to heart rhythm disturbance or have been diagnosed with an arrhythmia please discuss with your general practitioner whether referral is appropriate.