Cardiac Arrhythmia: After Your Visit

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, lightheadedness, 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 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 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 jewelry that says you have an abnormal heart rhythm. You can buy this at most drugstores.

Lifestyle changes

  • Eat a diet low in fat and salt to help keep your heart healthy.
  • If you have been treated for a fast heartbeat, stay away from caffeine, 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.
  • 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 at least 30 minutes on most days of the 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.
  • If your doctor has not set you up with a cardiac rehabilitation (rehab) program, talk to him or her about whether that is right for you. Cardiac rehab includes exercise, help with diet and lifestyle changes, and emotional support. It may reduce your risk of future heart problems.
  • 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 passed out (lost consciousness).
  • You have symptoms of a heart attack. These may include:
    • Chest pain or pressure, or a strange feeling in the chest.
    • Sweating.
    • Shortness of breath.
    • Nausea or vomiting.
    • Pain, pressure, or a strange feeling in the back, neck, jaw, or upper belly or in one or both shoulders or arms.
    • Lightheadedness or sudden weakness.
    • A fast or irregular heartbeat.

After you call 911, the operator may tell you to chew 1 adult-strength or 2 to 4 low-dose aspirin. Wait for an ambulance. Do not try to drive yourself.

  • 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 now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You are dizzy or lightheaded, or you feel like you may faint.
  • You have new or increased shortness of breath.
  • You had surgery and you have signs of infection, such as:
    • Increased pain, swelling, warmth, or redness.
    • Red streaks leading from the cut (incision).
    • Pus draining from the incision.
    • A fever.

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

  • You do not get better as expected.