Heart Palpitations – Are They Serious

What do Heart Palpitations Mean

Heart palpitations making your worried?  Feeling a little flutter in your chest and wondering if it is something serious?  Is your heart skipping a beat and scaring you to death (pardon the pun)? Heart palpitations are actually very common.  Are they serious?  Well, that depends.

atrial fibrillation Heart Palpitations   Are They Serious

Most heart palpitations are benign and temporary.  That flutter in your chest can be caused by many factors including:

  • Stress
  • Caffeine
  • Excitement.
  • Some medications may cause heart palpitations.

Heart palpitations become a concern when they are persistent and/or accompanied by other symptoms.  Some of these symptoms include:

  • Dizziness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Syncope (fainting)
  • Weakness
  • Fatigue
  • Chest pain
  • Rapid rate of 100-175 beats per minute or more.

If you experience any of these symptoms or your heart palpitations are not resolving then it is time to see your doctor.  Your heart palpitations could be a sign of Atrial fibrillation or A-Fib.

What is A-Fib?

Atrial fibrillation or A-Fib is a serious heart condition that can be treated and controlled.  Your heart has a sort of internal electrical system which sends signals  to the heart muscles telling them when to contract and relax. These contractions are what brings blood flow into the heart and sends it to the rest of your body in a regular rhythmic pattern.  When our electrical system goes haywire the heart begins to quiver creating an abnormal heart rhythm called an arrhythmia.  A-fib is one such arrhythmia.  It is an abnormal heart rhythm.  In fact it is the most common heart arrhythmia. When someone has A-fib, parts of their heart can not contract in a coordinating pattern and the heart can’t pump enough blood to meed their body’s needs.  This is when heart palpitations become serious.

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What Causes A-Fib

There are many causes of A-fib and some people have higher risk factors than others.  For example:

  • Coronary artery disease
  • History of Myocardial Infarction (heart attack)
  • Heart Failure or enlarged heart
  • Heart Valve Disease
  • Hyperthyroidism
  • Sick Sinus Syndrome
  • Binge drinking and alcoholism.
  • Pericarditis

A-Fib can come and go.  Your heart may spontaneously revert back to a normal rhythm and you may not always be symptomatic.  The problem comes in that Atrial Fibrillation is a common cause of stroke.  Therefore, it must be treated.

A-Fib Treatment Options

1. Cardioversion:  Cardioversion uses electrical shock and medications to convert your irregular rhythm back into a normal rhythm.  This is often done on an emergent basis or it can be scheduled in advance.  Cardioversion can be painful and so patients are medicated and sedated for the procedure if possible.

2. Daily Medications:  Beta blockers, calcium channel blockers, or Digoxin may be used to slow the heart rate and keep the heart palpitation from coming back. There are people in whom these medications don’t work or only have a minimal effect.

3. Blood Thinners: Coumadin, Heparin, Pradaxa, or maybe just aspirin can be used to thin the blood.  These drugs decrease the risk of clot formations leading to stroke.

4. Radio-frequency ablation and pacemaker:   Radio-frequency ablation actually destroys a specific area of your heart that is responsible for causing the arrhythmia.  People will often need a pacemaker implanted after this procedure.

pacemaker Heart Palpitations   Are They Serious

Pacemaker implanted in patients chest wall.

Heart palpitation are usually nothing to get worried about.  However, if your heart palpitations persist you could have a heart arrhythmia and be at risk for stroke.  Do not delay a trip to your physician to have your irregular heart beat checked out.  Because, addressing the question of whether heart palpitations are serious, the answer is: Sometimes!




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