01/23/2012 12:27 pm ET

John Edwards Has Irregular Heartbeat, Report Says: What Are The Risks?

Former presidential candidate John Edwards has an irregular heartbeat and will have a heart procedure in February, reported WRAL in North Carolina.

WRAL reported that the former senator has blacked out at least one time and has had three heart episodes since the fall. Addressing the heart condition will delay Edwards's trial over his possible campaign violations, according to news reports. (Jury selection for the trial will now begin on March 26, the Associated Press reported.)

Irregular heartbeat, also known as heart arrhythmia, occurs when the heart beats too slow or too fast, and can increase the risk of stroke and heart failure, according to the Mayo Clinic.

The specifics of Edwards' case are not known, but McCatchy Information Services reported that heart arrhythmia affects more than 5 million Americans, with 2.7 million people in the United States being affected by the most common form of the condition, called atrial fibrillation.

WebMD reported that heart arrhythmia can be caused by coronary artery disease, heart muscle changes, heart attack, sodium or potassium blood imbalances and after heart surgery, though it can also occur in people who have otherwise healthy hearts.

Irregular heartbeats occur when the heart's electrical system isn't working properly, thereby causing the heart to beat too quickly (tachycardia), too slowly (bradycardia) or irregularly, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Symptoms of heart arrhythmia include fainting, heart palpitations, dizziness and shortness of breath, pulse changes, paleness, chest pain and sweating, the National Institutes of Health reported.

Treatments for the condition include medications, a temporary pacemaker and undergoing electrical shock therapy. People can also have a cardiac defibrillator implanted that sends shocks into the heart to stop the arrhythmia from happening, according to the NIH. Cardiac ablation is also an option, where the part of the heart that causes the arrhythmia is destroyed.

The type of treatment for arrhythmia may depend on the type of arrhythmia the person has. For a list of the different types of arrhythmia, click over to WebMD.