Have is ‘-rhythmia.’ The only difference is

Have you heard of dysrhythmia and arrhythmia? Are you confused as to their similarities and differences? This lesson describes the practical and the more subtle similarities and differences between the two.

Practically Similar Words

Elevator and lift.

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Apartment and flat. For all practical purposes, these terms describe the same thing, just using different words. Of course, logophiles, lovers of words, may argue the nuances of each and claim they are not exactly the same, and they may be right. This lesson covers two similar words: cardiac dysrhythmia and cardiac arrhythmia.

Cardiac Dysrhythmia vs. Arrhythmia

Cardiac dysrhythmia and cardiac arrhythmia both refer to the same thing.

They are synonyms for an irregular heartbeat and are often used interchangeably. If you were to talk to your doctor, they would understand that you mean the exact same thing regardless of which word you chose.For all practical purposes, there is no difference between the two terms. Either can be used to refer to the four main categories of irregular heartbeats.

These are:

  • Premature beats, which are ‘extra’ heartbeats that come sooner than normal
  • Supraventricular arrhythmias, those arising from the top of the heart
  • Ventricular arrhythmias, those coming from the bottom of the heart
  • Bradyarrhythmias, which cause the heart to beat really slowly

The Nuanced Definitions

Now that we know what these terms refer to and that they are synonymous with each other, let’s delve into the word part details of each to understand their not-so-practical differences.The word ‘cardiac’ comes from ‘cardio-,’ which refers to the heart. The word ‘dysrhythmia’ comes from the Greek for ‘dys-,’ which means abnormal, bad, disordered, or difficult. The word part ‘-rhythm’ refers to the Latin ‘rhythmus,’ which means a movement in time, or from the Greek ‘rhythmos,’ which means a measured flow or movement. The suffix ‘-ia’ is a Greek and Latin suffix that refers to a state or condition of some sort.

Thus, the term ‘cardiac dysrhythmia’ literally translates as a condition of the heart that entails an abnormal measure to its movement. In other words, there is an abnormal rhythm.Let’s now turn to cardiac arrhythmia. ‘Cardiac’ is the same as before, as is ‘-rhythmia.’ The only difference is the prefix ‘a-.

‘ This is a word element that comes from the Greek and Latin for not, without, absence, or deficiency. Thus, if we were to literally translate cardiac arrhythmia by its word parts, we would get: a condition of the heart that entails an absence of any measure to its movement. In other words, there is an absence of rhythm.To recap:Dysrhythmia = abnormal rhythmArrhythmia = absence of rhythm

Which Is the Proper Term?

Here’s where some disagreement between the two words has occurred.

The absence of rhythm, to some, implies the person is in asystole, cardiac arrest, and even dead since a heart in cardiac arrest is technically devoid of any rhythm since it’s not even beating to create a rhythm in the first place. Therefore, some people have argued that ‘dysrhythmia’ is the better of two terms, as it does not imply asystole, but rather just an abnormal rhythm.The counterargument is that an absence of rhythm, arrhythmia, is not equivalent to a lack of a pulse or a lack of a heartbeat. For example, a condition called atrial fibrillation involves an absolutely haphazard heartbeat. The heartbeat itself is irregular when it does occur and it occurs at completely irregular intervals. Meaning, there is no pattern or period to the heartbeat whatsoever; it’s completely unpredictable. This is the exact opposite of what the word rhythm means.

This means there is an absence of rhythm in atrial fibrillation and that this is an arrhythmia as a result. Nonetheless, this absence of rhythm, arrhythmia, in atrial fibrillation doesn’t, however, mean the heart isn’t beating at all and that the person has no pulse, asystole.Another argument made against using the term ‘arrhythmia’ is that it is not the proper term to use for the description of periodic, regular, or rhythmic arrhythmias such as atrial flutter. Here, the irregular heartbeat occurs in a predictable, regular, fashion. Ergo, it has a rhythm to its irregularity. This means there is a rhythm.

Saying that there is an absence of rhythm, arrhythmia, would be contradictory.Nonetheless, today arrhythmia is the more commonly used term. One reason is precedence, as it is the older of the two terms when used in the field of cardiology. Additionally, over the past several decades, numerous important health organizations around the world, including those related specifically to the field of cardiology, have established arrhythmia as the proper term for any cardiac rhythm other than the normal rhythm, called a sinus rhythm.

Lesson Summary

Cardiac dysrhythmia and cardiac arrhythmia refer, for all practical purposes, to the same thing: an irregular heartbeat. While the former may mean an abnormal rhythm and the latter means an absence of rhythm, their nuanced differences are best left to the logophiles. This is because historical precedence, as well as established agreement within the field of cardiology, has denoted arrhythmia as the standard term for an irregular heartbeat.Medical Disclaimer: The information on this site is for your information only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice.


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