Is it dangerous to have heart palpitations? A physician explains what occurs when your heart skips a beat.

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Q. What are the symptoms of heart palpitations? Is it important for me to be concerned about them? Also: I don’t comprehend how my heart can skip a beat and yet there is no harm! Why not?

A. The human heartbeat is often shown on television and in movies as a metronome: lub-dub, lub-dub, lub-dub. But our hearts aren’t mechanical, and sometimes Mother Nature misses a beat or sneaks one in early. You sense the irregularity as a peculiar thump or fluttering sensation: a palpitation.

What Causes Palpitations of the Heart?

Palpitations are not always serious. They’re the result of minor system malfunctions.

Your heart has a built-in pacemaker that is triggered by the sinoatrial (SA) node. The atria (upper heart chambers) or ventricles (lower heart chambers) may jump ahead of the pacemaker before it fires, resulting in an early beat, called a premature contraction. The heart generally responds by delaying the following scheduled beat.

People may not notice the early beat, but they will sense the interval between the second, delayed beat and the third as a missed beat. The body is in fact maintaining overall balance and continuing to function without causing any serious circulation problems.

Epinephrine is another typical cause of these premature contractions. Epinephrine, often known as the fight-or-flight hormone, can increase your heart rate, causing the sudden or early beats that are felt as palpitations. When you’re scared or stressed, your body produces extra epinephrine. That explains why a frightening film makes your heart sound like it’s thumping out of your chest.

When Are Heart Palpitations Harmful?

Palpitations can sometimes indicate a heart problem. Indicating underlying significant issues, warning signals for hidden dangers include:

  • Continuous palpitations—over six per minute or three in a row.
  • Lightheadedness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Passing out
  • Chest pain

The most common causes of heart palpitations are:

  • An overactive thyroid
  • Blockage in the coronary arteries
  • Electrolyte imbalances (sodium, potassium)
  • Diseases of the heart muscle
  • Abnormalities in the heart’s electrical system
  • Malfunction of the natural pacemaker

The first three can cause the heart not to beat effectively, which might exacerbate a weakening condition.

What Are the Tests for Heart Palpitations?

Your doctor will most likely perform an electrocardiogram (EKG) to help determine the source of your palpitations. The electrical activity of the heart is recorded through electrodes attached to the chest with this simple test. The tracing includes information not only on the heart’s rhythm, but also on its size, previous structural damage, and possible delays in nerve transmission.

Palpitations are frequently not experienced when you visit the doctor’s office. In that case, your physician may attach you to a portable monitoring device that tracks your heart rhythm as you go about your daily activities. Depending on the doctor’s initial findings, he or she may request additional tests such as blood testing or an echocardiogram (sound wave picture of the heart).

What Is the Treatment for Palpitations of the Heart?

If the palpitations are due to nothing more serious, lifestyle changes such as limiting coffee and decongestants can help. (These stimulants might exacerbate palpitations.) Regular exercise also lowers your heart rate to a slower baseline, making it less prone to palpitations.

The most hopeless cases are treated with prescription medicines. The primary drug class, called beta-blockers, works by slowing the heart rate.

Fortunately, most palpitations that aren’t caused by heart disease or other illnesses don’t need medicine. The assurance that your heart is healthy might be enough to make the palpitations less frightening and hence more inconspicuous. Remember that even if your heart appears to be going haywire, it is still transporting all of the blood required by your brain and other vital organs.

If you have concerns about your health, contact your doctor to ensure that the reason for the problem is dealt with.

Photo by NeONBRAND/Unsplash

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