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Last updated on November 5, 2020

What to Know if You Have an Abnormal Heart Rate

December 4, 2019

If you have an abnormal heartbeat you are experiencing arrhythmia. Arrhythmia is a term applied to any heart beating with abnormal heart rhythm. This includes the heart beating too fast or “fluttering” (tachycardia) or too slow (bradycardia).

Arrhythmias are not always the sign of an emergency. Often they can be completely harmless. Your heart may be fully healthy despite experiencing the abnormal rhythm, or it can be your sign that something more serious is occurring. 

Some conditions an arrhythmia may be pointing toward are:

  • Heart disease
  • An imbalance of electrolytes in the blood (especially sodium or potassium)
  • The heart muscle experiencing changes
  • Injury sustained by a heart attack
  • The heart-healing after surgery

When arrhythmias are without symptoms they may be detected by a doctor during a routine exam while taking your pulse. They can also be detected through an electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG) which will detect abnormal heart rhythms or abnormal heart sounds.

If it is causing symptoms, they may include:

  • Heart palpitations
  • Fainting
  • Shortness of breath
  • Pounding in the chest
  • Chest tightness or pain
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness

If you’ve noticed any of these symptoms persisting, it is highly important to see a medical professional in order to receive a diagnosis. The quicker you receive care the higher the chance of full recovery. 

VA Benefits for Heart Disease

When applying for benefits for service-connected heart disease, it is extremely important to have your physician get a MET (metabolic equivalent of task) during your exam. This is an exercise test that will determine how much oxygen is being used by the body to perform strenuous tasks. 

The MET will give a point of reference for the VA in determining your disability rating. 

The basic VA rating system for heart disease is as follows:

  • 100%– This rating is assigned if one or more of the following criteria are met, 
    • There is continuous congestive heart failure
    • Your condition scores 3 METs or less on the MET test while causing shortness of breath, fatigue, chest pain and dizziness
    • The left ventricle is found to be pushing out less than 30% of the blood it is meant to with each beat
  • 60%– This rating will be assigned if there are more than one of these criteria,
    • You’ve experienced at least two episodes of congestive heart failure in the past year 
    • Your condition scores 4 or 5 METs on the MET test while causing shortness of breath, fatigue, chest pain, and dizziness
    • Left ventricular dysfunction is causing an ejection rate between 30-50%
  • 30%- This rating will be assigned if there are more than one of these criteria,
    • Your condition scores 6 or 7 METs on the MET test while causing shortness of breath, fatigue, chest pain, and dizziness
    • There is evidence of hypertrophy (thickening of the heart muscle) or dilation (an expanding of the heart)
  • 10%- This rating will be assigned if there are more than one of these criteria,
    • Your condition scores 8, 9,  or 10 METs on the MET test while causing shortness of breath, fatigue, chest pain and dizziness
    • You have the need for continuous medication

Most heart diseases are rated by the VA according to this basic system. In fact, many are given an automatic rating of 100% while the condition is active and lasts until the first treatments have at least 3 months to take effect. At that point, they will rate your condition according to the basic rating scale. 

Other heart conditions that will be rated differently include supraventricular arrhythmias and hyperthyroid heart disease.

If you have supraventricular arrhythmia your heart is beating abnormally in the upper chambers of the heart. If this condition causes episodes more than 5 times per year it is assigned a rating of 30%. Anything less than that will receive a 10% rating. 

If your thyroid is producing too much hormone then you are experiencing hyperthyroid heart disease. Your blood pressure, oxygen consumption, and strength of your heartbeat may be affected by this condition. This condition will be rated according to whichever heart code is best determined to describe your current condition. 

Conclusion

Thankfully abnormal heart rates and abnormal heart sounds are not automatically signs of dangerous conditions or diseases. However, they can be symptomatic of a much more serious condition and may need medical care.

Be sure that you take any symptoms you’re experiencing from arrhythmia seriously and seek out medical help from the VA. 

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