Before we discuss the specifics of this particular complication, you should know a little about the normal process of a heartbeat.
Your heart is only able to beat because it sends electrical signals from an area in your heart called the SA node or the main pacemaker. This is the SA node at work.
In a normal situation, the electrical signals cause the upper parts of the heart to beat together. This pushes blood into the lower parts of the heart. Then, as the electrical signals continue through the heart, the lower chambers contract to push blood out of the heart.
Sometimes, things go wrong in the heart's electrical pathways. An electrical signal may be sent from a part of the heart that should not be sending signals. This creates abnormal heartbeats. The heart may beat too slowly, too rapidly, or just irregularly.
Irregular heart rhythms are a relatively common occurrence during this procedure. Most of these fortunately are very brief and cause no symptoms.
One example that does create symptoms is called atrial fibrillation. Symptoms may include a rapid heart rate or a pounding in your chest. This abnormal rhythm is caused by too many electrical signals in the upper heart chambers or atria. Why this occurs after heart surgery is not known. Your heart simply does not contract in a coordinated manner but instead quivers.
In rare cases, an abnormal rhythm can develop that creates an immediate risk. Because of this risk, instruments and medications will be close at hand to treat these rhythms and your healthcare providers have advanced training for these situations.
Depending on the heart irregularity, your doctor may temporarily or permanently place a pacemaker or defibrillator into your heart. These instruments are able to sense abnormal heart rhythms and act to correct them. They are used if you have developed or are at risk of developing a heart rhythm that can cause serious consequences. In rare cases, an abnormal rhythm can lead to death.