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How to Treat Irregular Heartbeat With Acupuncture and TCM

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heart chambers
4 chambers of the heart

Does if feel like your heart “skips a beat,” or your heart is “fluttering?” Maybe you feel your heart beat is fast or slow, compared to your normal heart rate. Lots of things can cause your resting heart rate to be uneven. Acupuncture and TCM can be beneficial as both an adjunct or alternative to drug therapy for paroxysmal supraventricular tachycardia, paroxysmal atrial fibrillation, and other types of arrhythmia that cause heart palpitations or a fast heart rate.

The pulse rate is controlled by electrical impulses that originate in the sinus node, which is located in the right atrium, or upper chamber, of the heart. The feeling that your heart rhythm is off, or different from your normal pulse rate is called Arrhythmia. The average resting heart rate is 60 to 100 beats per minute. A fast heart rate–more than 100 beats per minute–is called tachycardia. A slow heart rate–less than 60 beats per minute– is called bradycardia.

It is natural to have a slightly high heart rate during or just after exercise, or or a slow heart rate during sleep or times of relaxation, as when meditating. In some cases, a rapid heartbeat is related to anxiety or panic attacks. Sometimes a rapid or irregular heart rate may be related to caffeine consumption or a side effect of some medication. Other times, it may be a sign of heart disease or other chronic condition that needs to be addressed. Other symptoms related to irregular heartbeat include: shortness of breath, chest pain, sweating, and dizziness.

The heart is composed of four chambers; the top two chambers are called the atria, into which blood is received, and the two bottom chambers, the ventricles, from which blood is pumped out to the lungs and the rest of the body. Medical science classifies deviations from a normal resting heart rate both according to their rapidity and the chamber of the heart that seems to be problematic. 

There are different medications available to help restore the regular rhythm of the heart, as well as therapies that deliver electrical impulses to the heart through a catheter, and devices, such as pacemakers or defibrillators.

In many cases, arrhythmia is not a serious problem. But in other cases, it can increase the risk of blood clots, stroke, and other life-threatening conditions. It is advisable to consult a medical professional if you are having an irregular heartbeat often enough to be concerned.

Acupuncture and TCM offer a natural way to help restore heart function and a good resting heart rate without the unwanted side effects of medications or invasive procedures.

Top 10 Types of Irregular Heartbeat

irregular heartbeat flutter
Feeling like your heart is fluttering?

There are many different terms that describe deviations from a regular, healthy heart rate. Some irregular heartbeat issues are due to congenital conditions, while others may occur due to trauma, disease, or aging.

  1. Atrial flutter – an accelerated heart rate that occurs in an organized and rhythmic way due to rapid electric impulses in the atria.
  2. Atrial fibrillation (AFib or AF) – a rapid heart rate, also caused by increased electrical impulses in the atria that happen in a chaotic, arrhythmic way. Fibrillation refers to the rapid and irregular movement of muscles. In the case of AFib, the upper chambers of the heart quiver quickly. This condition is associated with stroke. AFib with RVR (rapid ventricular response) is a condition that occurs when patients are critically ill, often in the ICU, when the atrial fibrillation causes the ventricles to beat faster.
  3. Ventricular fibrillation – rapid impulses in the ventricles (the lower chambers of the heart) cause ineffective pumping of blood out to the body.
  4. Supraventricular tachycardia – this refers to types of arrhythmia that originate in the atria (above the ventricles) and cause brief episodes of accelerated heart rate.
  5. Ventricular tachycardia – a fast but regular heart rate that does not allow the ventricles to fill with as much blood as usual.
  6. Sick sinus syndrome – more common among older people, this is when the sinus node is malfunctioning and may sometimes cause a fast heart rate, and other times, a slow heart rate.
  7. Long QT Syndrome – a heart disorder found in people with a particular genetic mutation that causes rapid heartbeat and fainting spells.
  8. Wolff-Parkinson-White Syndrome – some people are born with an extra electrical pathway that can cause extra or irregular signalling to occur.
  9. Conduction Block – a block of the electrical pathways that sometimes results in a slower heart rate.
  10. Premature ventricular contractions – this is when an extra heartbeat beat originates from the ventricles, rather than the atria. It can feel like a “skipped” beat, or your heart pounding or jumping in your chest, but it is actually a kind of extra beat. This can happen occasionally due to drug stimulants like caffeine or nicotine, or other medications like decongestants or antihistamines. It can also be due to heart disease creating scarring in the ventricles or in the structural parts of the heart that hold the pathways for electrical impulses.

Atrial fibrillation increases the risk of blood clots and strokes because blood is not being effectively pushed from the atria into the ventricles, so blood pools or collects in the atria.

What Causes Irregular Heartbeat?

In general, most types of arrhythmia are caused by some disorder of the electrical conduction system that controls the beating of the heart valves, or weakness of the heart itself, which is known as cardiomyopathy

Causes of tachycardia include:

  • Not enough blood nourishing the muscles of the heart.
  • Dilation or one or more valves of the heart, meaning that the muscle tissue becomes thinner and the chamber becomes enlarged.
  • Thickening of the walls of the heart chamber makes them stiff; this is known as hypertrophic cardiomyopathy.
  • Scar tissue makes the heart tissue more rigid (restrictive cardiomyopathy or dysplasia). This can happen due to inflammation, high levels of iron or protein in the tissues, sometimes as a side effect of cancer treatments (radiation and/or chemotherapy). Arrhythmic right ventricular dysplasia may be an inherited condition.

Causes of atrial fibrillation or atrial flutter include:

  • High blood pressure
  • damage to the heart from a heart attack or heart surgery
  • Coronary artery disease
  • Congenital heart defects
  • Hyperthyroidism
  • Lung disease, infections, or pneumonia
  • Sleep apnea, snoring
  • Smoking or overuse of other chemical stimulants

Chronic conditions like diabetes, obesity, metabolic syndrome, kidney problems, alcoholism, or a family history of heart problems increase a person’s risk for developing an arrhythmia.

Treatment for Irregular Heartbeat

irregular heartbeat
Medical treatment for irregular heartbeat

There are several different types of medications to treat irregular heartbeat. Tachycardia may be treated with antiarrhythmic drugs, which work by suppressing or depressing the electrical impulses that are misfiring or transmitting signals too quickly. Beta blockers slow down the heart rate and reduce blood pressure by reducing the production of adrenaline. AFib treatment often involves anticoagulants or blood thinners, which prevent the formation of blood clots. In some cases, these medications can work to help people maintain a steady heart rate and prevent serious events like strokes. The downside is that they must be taken daily on an ongoing basis, and in some cases, they can actually cause the heartbeat to become even more erratic. 

Medical procedures that are designed to help irregular heartbeat include: electrical cardioversion, in which an electric shock is used to help “reset” the heart rate, and ablation, in which the tissues that contain the electric impulse pathways are intentionally scarred in order to reduce their output. Implantable devices such as defibrillators or pacemaker monitor the heart rate and deliver small “shocks” to alter the rhythm of the heartbeat. For some people, these methods work to keep the heart functioning. In some cases, though, the surgery to implant the device causes complications or damage to critical tissues around the heart or lungs.

Can Acupuncture Help Irregular Heartbeat?

heartbeat
Electrical impulses control the rhythm of the heart beating.

In conventional medicine, and indeed, in Western culture, the heart is seen as one of the most important, if not the most important, organ in the body. Not only does it supply the whole body with oxygenated blood, but it also is associated with our deepest emotions. TCM also views the heart as a central organ that governs the blood and vessels, and also the mind and spirit. 

The traditional diagnostic methods employed by TCM practitioners can tell us a lot about the health of the heart. The feeling of the pulse gives us detailed information about the strength, quality, and speed of the heart rate. According to TCM theory, the heart “opens” out into the face, and so observing the pallor or color of the face, the brightness of the eyes, and the appearance, especially, of the tongue, also gives the acupuncturist vital information about the heart.

TCM providers classify different causes of irregular heartbeat by looking at the whole concert of presenting symptoms:

  • Heart Qi deficiency or Blood deficiency: may happen after a long illness or loss of blood and be marked by heart palpitations, dizziness, memory problems, and/or insomnia. The pulse will be weak, and the tongue pale pink.
  • Kidney yin deficiency with Heart Fire: chronic illness can deplete the kidneys so that they can no longer manage the balance of fluids and heat, so heat rises and disturbs the Heart. With this presentation, a person may be experiencing strong feelings of fear or anger, depression, ringing in the ears (tinnitus), and stomach problems.

Depending on the type of arrhythmia, the acupuncturist will choose acupuncture points and herbs to clear heat and dampness, nourish the blood, and calm and strengthen the heart. Specific herbal formulae work to activate and maintain blood flow, removing stasis, while also helping to protect the spleen and stomach.

A controlled study that compared patients with arrhythmias and tachycardias who were treated with medication (Lopressor) versus patients treated with both the medication and acupuncture and Chinese herbal formulations. The patients who received integrative care showed statistically very significant improvement over the patients using medication only.

A systematic review of randomized trials that compared acupuncture treatment versus typical medication treatment found that both types of treatment were equally effective for paroxysmal supraventricular tachycardia, that acupuncture in addition to medication was effective for ventricular premature beat, and that acupuncture was beneficial over no treatment at all for sinus tachycardia.

Acupuncture Near Me for Irregular Heartbeat

Unfortunately, cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death among Americans. Over five million people in the U.S. experience atrial fibrillation, or heart flutter. The conventional methods of treating heart problems such as AFib and other types of arrhythmia can work, but they require people to become completely dependent upon medications or devices. These methods of treatment are also very expensive. Acupuncture and TCM offer an alternative or adjunct approach that can help improve heart function and restore a healthy heart rate without side effects.

 

 

*This article is for education from the perspective of Traditional Chinese Medicine only. The education provided by this article is not approved by FDA to diagnose, prevent, treat and cure human diseases. It should not stop you from consulting with your physician for your medical conditions. Traditional Chinese Medicine is based on Qi, which is an invisible force that usually cannot be observed by modern science. Because science focuses on testing ideas about the natural world with evidence obtained through observation, these aspects of acupuncture can’t be studied by science. Therefore acupuncture and Chinese herbs are often not supported by double-blind, randomized trials, and they are considered alternative medicine therapies in the United States.

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