Heart palpitations could signal the onset of serious health issues.
Nearly everyone has experienced heart palpitations, a feeling that your heat is racing, thumping, or skipping a beat. In many cases, palpitations are scary but harmless. However, this doesn’t mean that you should ignore them completely. Knowing what to look for and when to seek treatment can help you prevent potentially deadly health issues.
Listen to What Your Heart is Telling You
Palpitations can appear from out of nowhere and disappear just as suddenly. They are triggered by a wide range of factors such as stress, physical activity, caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, low blood sugar, or hormonal changes during pregnancy.
“Heart palpitations may indicate an overactive thyroid or serious problems such as heart disease, or arrhythmia, which is an abnormal heart rate caused by your heart beating too fast, too slow, or irregularly,” says Dr. Daniel Wang, a board certified Cardiologist and the Director of Cardiac Electrophysiology at White Plains Hospital. “Certain heart arrhythmias, such as atrial fibrillation, are associated with an increased risk of blood clots. If a clot breaks loose, it can travel from your heart to your brain, causing a stroke.”
Some of the most common types of arrhythmia include:
Tachycardia. Tachycardia is defined as a rapid heart rate over 100 beats per minute that can either start in the heart's lower chambers (ventricles) or upper chambers (atria). A normal heart beats approximately 60 to 100 times per minute in adults.
The symptoms: You feel dizzy or lightheaded, pressure or tightness in your chest, have a rapid pulse rate or experience shortness of breath.
Atrial Fibrillation (AFib). This is a common condition that causes the upper chambers of the heart to shudder at an irregular pace, making it difficult for the heart to pump blood out to the rest of your body. As your blood flow slows down, your risk of forming dangerous clots increases. In fact, a person with AFib has five times the risk of having a stroke.
The symptoms: A flutter or quiver in your chest when your heart beats. Your heart might beat faster than usual, pound, or race. This feeling often lasts for a few minutes.
Ventricular tachycardia (VT). This condition can stop the heart from beating and cause cardiac arrest. “VT occurs in the ventricles when they unable to pump sufficient blood out of your heart to the body and brain due to an extremely rapid heartbeat,” comments Dr. Wang. “It is a serious condition that can be potentially fatal if it’s not immediately treated. Typically, it requires defibrillation, which delivers an electrical shock to the heart and restores normal heart rhythm.”
The symptoms: Rapid heartbeat chest pain, palpations, shortness of breath, and/or fatigue.
“Depending on the arrhythmia for many people with mild symptoms, relaxation exercises, stress management and dietary and lifestyle modifications can help manage recurrences of palpitations,” says Dr. Wang. “Other treatment for arrhythmia may include installing a pacemaker, or catheter ablation, a procedure that nullifies the affected area. But recording an electrocardiogram (ECG) at the time the symptoms are occurring is key to making a diagnosis.”