What Are Heart Palpitations? Should I be Concerned?
Have you ever felt your heart skip a beat or have that sensation of flutters in your chest? You could be experiencing heart palpitations. And while they may be frightening or bothersome, they are not usually a cause for concern. In rare cases, they can be a symptom of a more serious heart condition, such as an irregular heartbeat, also known as an arrhythmia, that might require treatment.
Palpitations can originate from either the upper chambers of the heart, or the lower chambers of the heart, and it can mean different things depending on where the palpitation is coming from.
Heart Palpitations from the Upper Chambers
When the upper chambers of the heart, or the atria, beat fast, it could be a heart condition called atrial fibrillation. You may have intermittent or persistent fibrillation, but it is treatable, and in some cases, curable.
Heart Palpitations from the Lower Chambers
When the palpitations arise from the lower chambers, also known as the ventricles, they are called premature ventricular contractions. These can be benign, and you may not need treatment. However, if you have frequent contractions, you may need to seek treatment with a cardiologist as this could increase your risk of cardiomyopathy, or weakening of the heart muscle.
Heart palpitations can be caused by a variety of reasons and often go away on their own. The cause can be difficult to diagnose, especially if the palpitations don’t occur while you’re in the doctor’s office. There are several factors that can trigger palpitations, including:
- Strenuous exercise
- Excess caffeine or alcohol use
- Nicotine from tobacco products
- Lack of sleep
- Hormonal changes, including pregnancy
Treatment for heart palpitations depends on the cause. Your doctor will also need to address any underlying medical conditions. If your palpitations are due to smoking or consuming too much caffeine, cutting down or eliminating those substances may be all that you need to do. It’s important to ask your doctor about alternative medications or treatments if you think medication may be the cause. Your doctor may also want to rule out certain diseases or other heart conditions by conducting a blood, urine or stress tests.
You may also be asked to wear a monitor for 24 to 48 hours to record your heart’s rhythm. If your doctor determines your heart palpitations are nothing to worry about, but you’re still bothered by the feeling, there are additional steps you can take to decrease you chance of experiencing them. The American Heart Association recommends these tips:
- Reduce high blood pressure
- Control cholesterol levels
- Lose excess weight
- Eat a heart-healthy diet
- Avoid smoking
- Participate in regular physical activity
Heart palpitations are common, but you should seek immediate medical care if you experience dizziness or fainting, chest pain, are short of breath or have a heart rate over 120 beats per minute while at rest.
Learn more about cardiovascular care at Ochsner: https://www.ochsner.org/services/heart-vascular-services.
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