Cardiac Arrhythmia: Care Instructions

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Your Care Instructions

A cardiac arrhythmia is a change in the normal rhythm of the heart. Your heart may beat too fast or too slow or beat with an irregular or skipping rhythm. A change in the heart's rhythm may feel like a really strong heartbeat or a fluttering in your chest. A severe heart rhythm problem can keep the body from getting the blood it needs. This can result in shortness of breath, light-headedness, and fainting.

You may take medicine to treat your condition. Your doctor may recommend a pacemaker or recommend catheter ablation to destroy small parts of the heart that are causing a rhythm problem. Another possible treatment is an implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD). An ICD is a device that gives the heart a shock to return the heart to a normal rhythm.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse call line if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

How can you care for yourself at home?

General care

  • Take your medicines exactly as prescribed. Call your doctor or nurse call line if you think you are having a problem with your medicine. You will get more details on the specific medicines your doctor prescribes.
  • If you received a pacemaker or an ICD, you will get a fact sheet about it.
  • Wear medical alert jewellery that says you have an abnormal heart rhythm.

Lifestyle changes

  • Eat a heart-healthy diet.
  • Stay at a healthy weight. Lose weight if you need to.
  • Avoid nicotine, too much alcohol, and illegal drugs (meth, speed, and cocaine). Also, get enough sleep and do not overeat.
  • Ask your doctor whether you can take over-the-counter medicines (such as decongestants). These can make your heart beat fast.
  • Talk to your doctor about any limits to activities, such as driving, or tasks where you use power tools or ladders.


  • Start light exercise if your doctor says you can. Even a small amount will help you get stronger, have more energy, and manage your stress.
  • Get regular exercise. Try for 2½ hours a week. Ask your doctor what level of exercise issafe for you. If activity is not likely to cause health problems, you probably do not have limits on the type orlevel of activity that you can do. You may want to walk, swim, bike, or do other activities.
  • If your doctor recommends it, get more exercise. Walking is a good choice. Bit by bit, increase the amount you walk every day. Try for 2½ hours a week. You also may want to swim, bike, or do other activities.
  • When you exercise, watch for signs that your heart is working too hard. You are pushing too hard if you cannot talk while you exercise. If you become short of breath or dizzy or have chest pain, sit down and rest.
  • Check your pulse daily. Place two fingers on the artery at the palm side of your wrist, in line with your thumb. If your heartbeat seems uneven, talk to your doctor.

When should you call for help?

Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • You have symptoms of sudden heart failure. These may include:
    • Severe trouble breathing.
    • A fast or irregular heartbeat.
    • Coughing up pink, foamy mucus.
    • You passed out.
  • You have signs of a stroke. These include:
    • Sudden numbness, paralysis, or weakness in your face, arm, or leg, especially on only one side of your body.
    • New problems with walking or balance.
    • Sudden vision changes.
    • Drooling or slurred speech.
    • New problems speaking or understanding simple statements, or feeling confused.
    • A sudden, severe headache that is different from past headaches.

Call your doctor or nurse call line now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You have new or changed symptoms of heart failure, such as:
    • New or increased shortness of breath.
    • New or worse swelling in your legs, ankles, or feet.
    • Sudden weight gain, such as more than 1 to 1.3 kilograms in a day or 2 kilograms in a week. (Your doctor may suggest a different range of weight gain.)
    • Feeling dizzy or light-headed or like you may faint.
    • Feeling so tired or weak that you cannot do your usual activities.
    • Not sleeping well. Shortness of breath wakes you at night. You need extra pillows to prop yourself up to breathe easier.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse call line if:

  • You do not get better as expected.

Where can you learn more?

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