Sinus arrhythmia is a disruption in the heartbeat that originates in the sinus node of the heart, where the heart's natural pacemaker is located. A number of problems involving the heart's natural pacing can cause the heartbeat to be irregular. Sinus arrhythmia is usually benign, but it can be a cause for concern in certain cases. Other arrhythmias located in this node such as sinus bradycardia, where the heart beats too slowly, or sinus tachycardia, where the heart beats too quickly, can be serious medical issues.
Children and young adults commonly have a natural sinus arrhythmia that resolves with age. Another common form of arrhythmia is a respiratory arrhythmia, characterized by small variations in the heartbeat associated with breathing in. In patients with this type of arrhythmia, the heartbeat changes slightly with each breath, but the patient is not in danger.
Sinus arrhythmia can also occur in response to medications, stress, environmental factors, and recreational drugs. Some of these arrhythmias can become dangerous if they are not corrected. Patients who repeatedly expose themselves to common causes of cardiac arrhythmias over the long term can damage their hearts. This can lead to the development of a more serious arrhythmia that may put the patient at risk of a heart attack or other medical complications.
A doctor may be able to hear a sinus arrhythmia during a physical exam. If a doctor identifies irregularities in a patient's heartbeat, an electrocardiograph may be recommended. In this test, leads are attached to the patient's chest and the electrical rhythms of the heart are measured. A printout shows the patterns of the patient's heartbeats and this information can be used to diagnose a patient or to learn more about a heart problem. If a cause for concern is identified, the patient can meet with the doctor to discuss the situation and talk about treatment options.
If a patient has a history of sinus arrhythmia, it will be noted in the chart along with the outcome of any medical tests conducted on the heart. This information can be useful for other care providers, alerting them to the fact that the arrhythmia has been noted and worked up. Patients who are switching doctors should make sure to request copies of their medical records so they can bring them in on their first appointments. Having complete patient records increases the quality of care and will help a doctor provide continuity of care in the long term.