Sinus Arrhythmia Explained

In simple terms, sinus arrhythmia is a natural change in the heart’s rhythm caused by breathing. Usually, respiratory sinus arrhythmia is a sign of a healthy heart. When you inhale, your heartbeat speeds up, and when you exhale it slows down again. Sinus arrhythmia can occur in patients of any age, but is found most frequently in children and professional athletes, who have excellent cardiovascular conditioning. Although it is only loosely related to sinus drainage, abnormal sinus arrhythmia can be one of the most complicated and dangerous sinus-related problems.

Sinus Arrhythmia Causes

Sinus Arrhythmia - An X-ray image of a surgically implanted pacemaker.The heart is located in the chest near the lungs. When we breath, our bodies create changes in pressure on our lungs, allowing us to inhale and exhale air. These changes in pressure also impact the heart because of its proximity to the lungs. Inhalation causes a slight increase in the amount of blood in the heart; as the heart fills up, it beats faster. Exhaling causes the reverse effect. Respiratory sinus arrhythmia is the name given to these small changes in heart rate. When it occurs in children, sinus arrhythmia is considered perfectly normal and no treatment is necessary.


Abnormal Sinus Arrhythmia

When it occurs outside of childhood, noticeable sinus arrhythmia may be a sign of a more serious condition known as sick sinus syndrome or tachy-brady syndrome.

The sinoatrial node is the collection electrically-conducive pacemaker tissue located in the right atrium of the heart; it’s responsible for conducting electrical signals that cause the heart to beat, thereby generating the normal sinus arrhythmia discussed above. However, when the sinus node becomes injured, the body may replace it with scar tissue. Scar tissue is more fibrous and does not conduct electrical signals normally. This can lead to a variety of different abnormal heart conditions, whereby the heart beats faster or slower than it should. The heart’s inability to continue a steady beat is extremely dangerous. In some cases, the heart may stop altogether for several seconds at a time.

This abnormal sinus arrhythmia occurs most frequently with elderly patients, but may also occur in adults with other conditions.


Symptoms of Abnormal Sinus Arrhythmia

Patients with abnormal sinus arrhythmia experience a variety of symptoms, including:

  • Heart Palpitations – Abnormal or skipped heart beats, often accompanied by dizziness or trouble breathing.
  • Shortness of Breath – Difficulty breathing or a feeling discomfort while breathing, as if you’re not getting enough air. Also know as Dyspnea.
  • Fatigue – Feeling exhausted and tired, or needing to rest frequently.
  • Fainting – Many patients with abnormal sinus arrhythmia report fainting or blacking out.

Treatment of Abnormal Sinus Arrhythmia

In most cases, doctors recommend the surgical installation of an artificial pacemaker to treat abnormal sinus arrhythmia. Surgeons began successfully implanting these devices in 1958, though attempts to do so occurred as early as the 1920s. Pacemakers have become significantly safer and more effective since then, and the procedure to implant them is common and widely accepted.

In some cases where the heart beats too rapidly at some points and too slowly at others, doctors will prescribe a medication that slows down the rate of the heart significantly and will also implant a pacemaker.

[box type=”alert”]WARNING – If you experience any chest pains or suspect you have any heart-related condition, contact emergency medical professionals immediately. These symptoms may signify a life-threatening condition, and only a physician can properly diagnose you and provide effective treatment. Sinus arrhythmia can indicate a serious condition when it occurs in adults.[/box]