HEART PALPITATIONS

Heart palpitations are feelings or sensations that your heart is pounding or racing. They can be felt in your chest, throat, or neck. You may have an unpleasant feeling that your heart skipped or stopped beats.

Palpitations are not serious most of the time. However, sensations representing an abnormal heart rhythm (arrhythmia) may be more serious.

The following conditions make a person more likely to have an abnormal heart rhythm:

  • Known heart disease at the time the palpitations begin
  • Significant risk factors for heart disease
  • An abnormal heart valve
  • An electrolyte abnormality in your blood; for example, a low potassium level

Heart palpitations can be caused by a variety of factors:

  • Anxiety, stress, panic attack, or fear
  • Caffeine intake
  • Nicotine intake
  • Cocaine or other illegal drugs
  • Diet pills
  • Exercise
  • Fever

However, some palpitations are due to an abnormal heart rhythm, which may be caused by:

  • Heart disease
  • Abnormal heart valve, such as mitral valve prolapse
  • Abnormal blood level of potassium
  • Certain medicines, including those used to treat asthma, high blood pressure, or heart problems
  • Overactive thyroid
  • Low level of oxygen in your blood

You should consult a doctor if your heart palpitations are accompanied by:

  • Chest discomfort or pain
  • Fainting
  • Severe shortness of breath
  • Severe dizziness

DIAGNOSIS

Your doctor will perform a physical examination, ask about your symptoms and discuss your medical history. He will suggest one or more diagnostic tests. These include:

  • Electrocardiogram (ECG). An electrocardiogram records electrical signals as they travel through your heart. It is the most common test used to diagnose arrhythmias. An ECG shows how fast the heart is beating and its rhythm (steady or irregular). It also records the strength and timing of electrical signals as they pass through the heart.
  • In Holter monitoring, you wear a portable monitor for 24 hours as you go about your normal activities. It records the heart’s electrical signals for a full 24- or 48-hour period. This allows the monitor to record your heart for a longer time than a standard ECG.
  • An event monitor is similar to a Holter monitor. You wear an event monitor while doing your normal activities. However, an event monitor only records your heart’s electrical activity at certain times while you’re wearing it.
  • Echocardiogram uses sound waves to produce images of your heart. It provides information about the size and shape of your heart and how well your heart chambers and valves are working. The test also can identify areas of poor blood flow to the heart, areas of heart muscle that aren’t contracting normally, and previous injury to the heart muscle caused by poor blood flow.

 

TREATMENT

In most cases, heart palpitations do not require treatment. Instead, your doctor may recommend ways for you to avoid the triggers that cause your palpitations.

If your palpitations are caused by a condition, such as an arrhythmia, treatment will focus on correcting the condition. Treatments for arrythmia include anti-arrythmic medications, devices (pacemaker, ICD) and surgery.

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