Inherited arrhythmias: Knowledge that could save your life

While rare, inherited arrhythmias can impact entire families. The cardiology experts at UW Health care for children to adults to ensure everyone receives the personalized attention they need for a long and healthy life.


About inherited arrhythmias

While rare, an inherited arrhythmia is an abnormal heart rhythm caused by a genetic defect in the heart’s electrical system. Inherited arrhythmias are potentially serious conditions that are one of the leading causes of sudden cardiac death.

Symptoms such as chest pain, dizziness, fainting, heart fluttering or palpitations, seizures or unusual fatigue can be signs of an arrhythmia. Some people walk around with an arrhythmia for decades with no symptoms at all. UW Health can help determine whether you or a close relative should visit with one of our inherited arrhythmia experts.

From time to time, you may have heard about an otherwise seemingly healthy person who has a sudden cardiac arrest, sometimes resulting in death. The cause may have been a structural deformity in the heart. Inherited arrhythmias, however, are something different. They result from a genetic defect in the heart’s electrical system. Because most inherited arrhythmias affect people under 50 (including children and teenagers), our clinic includes electrophysiologists who specialize in the heart’s electrical system and they care for pediatric and adult patients.

At UW Health, our goal is to help you or a close family member recognize the signs and risk factors of an inherited arrhythmia so it can be treated early. Acting now can be a life-saving decision, which is why we’re ready to see you at any time. If you are diagnosed with an inherited arrhythmia, our genetic counselors will work with you to inform other family members so they can also be screened.

We typically begin with a thorough discussion of your family’s health history. In addition, one or more diagnostic procedures may be done to determine whether you may have an inherited arrhythmia. These include:

  • Electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG)

  • Bloodwork

  • A portable, wearable monitor that constantly records your heart rhythm over a few days

  • Stress test

  • Cardiac catheterization

  • CT or MRI imagery

  • Genetic testing

Conditions and treatments

Types of arrhythimas

All inherited arrhythmias are rare, but the most common are:

The most common form of inherited arrhythmia, this condition leaves patients at risk for developing a fast, irregular arrhythmia called Torsades de Pointes and may lead to fainting spells or, in some patients, cardiac arrest and possibly sudden death.

A disease that causes the myocardium (muscular wall of the heart) to break down over time, which increases the risk of an abnormal heartbeat.

A condition that occurs in patients with no structural heart problems and may cause syncope (fainting) or even sudden cardiac death and may be common during exercise or extreme emotions.

Other, more rare, inherited arrhythmias include:

Brugada syndrome is caused by an abnormality in the heart’s electrical system that causes the heart to develop an abnormal rhythm (arrhythmia) that is faster than normal. This arrhythmia can become dangerous, causing the heart to beat quickly and irregularly, preventing appropriate blood flow to the brain and the rest of the body.

If an individual suffers a cardiac arrest but no explanation can be given for their event, they are commonly described as having idiopathic ventricular fibrillation (IVF). This term is defined as having a dangerous abnormal cardiac rhythm (ventricular fibrillation) for an unknown reason (idiopathic). IVF makes up about 5-10% of all cardiac arrests that occur outside of the hospital. It can occur in males and females.

A rare condition in which an individual's heart may experience too short of a time recovering between beats.


There is no cure for inherited arrhythmias, but they can be managed and treated if identified early.

Beta blockers are medications that are often used to control abnormal heart rhythms. They cause the heart to beat more slowly and with less force.

Some patients may benefit from having an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD). Like a pacemaker, an ICD is a battery-powered device that is placed under the skin to keep track of your heart rate. The ICD will “shock” the heart rate back to normal if a dangerously abnormal heart rate is detected.

Patients may benefit from avoiding certain activities that could trigger a dangerous heart rhythm.


The doctors, researchers and staff within our clinic have the expertise to diagnose and treat inherited arrhythmias. Our clinic collaborates closely with the Arrhythmia Research Program at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. Learn more about our research

Cardiac genetic counseling

A cardiac genetic counselor helps patients and families understand their inherited arrhythmia diagnosis and navigate the process of considering the benefits and limitations to genetic testing. Genetic counselors are trained to help the person or family understand and cope with their diagnosis and what it will mean for their lives and that of their family members.

Meet our team

Care for the whole family

It makes a difference where you come for care, especially for complex conditions like heart arrhythmias. At UW Health, we’re here to provide first-rate clinical care and emotional support so you can live your best life.

Cardiovascular medicine
Pediatric cardiovascular medicine
Genetic counseling


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