Know the symptoms of arrhythmia and when to worry

January 31, 2019 | by Cash Casey, M.D.
Categories: Healthy Driven Hearts

Your heart is beating fast and feels like it’s skipping a beat. Do you run to the hospital or is it just nerves? How can you tell the difference?

Heart palpitations can be concerning, but not all require a rush to the hospital or a doctor’s office visit.

It could be related to a variety of things. Nerves, stomach issues or referred pain could cause that fluttering in your chest. Sometimes it’s benign. But it could also be serious.

Each beat of your heart starts in the upper right chamber, or atrium, called the sinus node, or SA node. This electrical signal or pulse then passes from the upper right chamber to the upper left chamber then down into the two lower chambers. As it passes through chambers, it causes the heart to contract in a synchronized pattern.

A glitch in that pattern causes an arrhythmia. Many times, arrhythmias are not life threatening and can be caused by stress, caffeine or other factors.

But when accompanied by other symptoms, such as feeling faint, dizzy or short of breath, it could be a sign of a more serious problem. You may also want to consult a doctor if the symptoms recur frequently or if you have high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, diabetes, congestive heart failure or a family history of heart disease.

If it’s associated with those more serious symptoms, it should be checked out with a doctor to see what it is. Of course, if the symptoms do not subside go to the Emergency Room.

Even without the symptoms, if the irregular beat concerns you, a trip to the doctor’s office is warranted.

Palpitations can occur without those symptoms but we ask people to get it checked out if it bothers them or affects their quality of life and prevents them from normal activity.

If you wind up at a doctor’s office, your doctor may ask you to describe your symptoms, if it’s associated with any kind of activity and what eases the symptoms, how long you’ve had the symptoms and how frequent they occur. You’ll also review your and your family’s medical history.

Your doctor may also request testing such as an EKG. In some cases, you may go home with a heart monitor so your doctor can get a better understanding of what is happening.

Treatment can be as simple as improving your diet and adding exercise to your routine, or it may involve medication. In more serious cases, a minor surgical procedure called an ablation may be required. In those cases, a surgeon destroys the area of heart tissue that is causing the rapid and irregular heartbeat (where the arrhythmia is located) to help restore the heart’s regular rhythm.

Many times, palpitations are benign. But it can also be a sign of a heart problem, not always a life threatening one, but it definitely warrants an evaluation both for symptoms and relief of those symptoms.

To find out if you’re at risk for heart disease, take an online HeartAware assessment. You can also call 877-45-HEART to schedule a heart scan or make an appointment online.

Learn more about heart and vascular services at Edward-Elmhurst Health.

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