Heart palpitations : when should you worry?

If you’ve ever felt like your heart has skipped a beat, fluttered or flip-flopped, then you’ve experienced heart palpitations Giant movie. Heart palpitations are the feelings of a fast-beating, pounding heart. Exercise, stress, certain medications, and medical conditions may trigger them.

Although heart palpitations can be scary or worrying, they aren’t usually harmful and are seldom caused by a condition. You’d usually feel heart palpitations in the throat and neck, as well as the chest. The beats can be more than 100 per minute and you can feel them when you’re active or relaxing.

In some cases, along with additional symptoms, heart palpitations can be a sign of a condition called atrial fibrillation.

What is atrial fibrillation?

When your heart beats, its muscular walls contract so it can force blood out and around the body. It then relaxes and fills with blood again, repeating the process. With atrial fibrillation, the heart’s upper chambers (atria) contract randomly and often too fast for the heart muscles to relax properly between contractions.

Due to this, the heart can’t carry out its processes efficiently. Atrial fibrillation happens when abnormal electrical impulses are sent into the atria. This becomes overwhelming for your heart and the heart’s natural pacemaker can no longer control your heart’s rhythm. So, you end up with an irregular pulse rate.

Atrial fibrillation can be occasional, persistent, permanent or long-standing and persistent (lasts for more than 12 months). It’s estimated that globally, 34 million people have been diagnosed with atrial fibrillation.

Common symptoms usually include:

  • Heart palpitations
  • Weakness
  • Reduced ability to exercise
  • Fatigue
  • Light-headedness
  • Dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
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Causes

Any abnormalities or damage to the heart’s structure can result in atrial fibrillation. Common conditions that may contribute to atrial fibrillation include high blood pressure, heart attacks, coronary artery disease, lung diseases, viral infections, previous heart surgery, and improper functioning of the heart’s natural pacemaker. Risk factors include being older than 65, excessive alcohol intake, family history and a chronic condition like asthma and diabetes.

Prevention

It’s important to live a healthy lifestyle to reduce the risk of atrial fibrillation.

  • Eat a heart-healthy diet.
  • Exercise regularly
  • If you smoke, quit now. Keep your weight steady without major fluctuations.
  • Limit or avoid caffeine and alcohol.
  • Find ways to reduce stress, as intense stress and anger can cause heart rhythm problems.
  • Use over-the-counter medications with caution, as some may trigger symptoms of atrial fibrillation.

Treatment

  • Medication to control atrial fibrillation.
  • Electric shock treatment (cardioversion).
  • Having a pacemaker fitted.

When to see your doctor

For any symptoms of atrial fibrillation, talk to your doctor. If he suspects atrial fibrillation, he will run tests to examine your symptoms. This is usually an electrocardiogram which helps assess if you may have any other heart disorders. If you have chest pain, go to the hospital or call emergency services immediately. Chest pain could signal a heart attack. A sudden change in your heartbeat, as well as an irregular heartbeat is cause for concern, too.

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