It’s more than just an expression – it’s possible for your heart to skip a beat. Irregular heartbeats, known as arrhythmia, don’t necessarily relate to the rate at which your heart is beating, but it does mean the normal patterns are out of sync. This means you may feel a fluttering sensation or a literal skipping; your heart may feel too slow or too fast.
An abnormal heartbeat can have a number of causes, some of them more serious than others. They’re actually quite common, and they only get more common as people age, so the occasional irregularity is no reason to panic. However, if it happens often or if you experience other symptoms, it’s important to consult a doctor to rule out a more serious cause.
Caffeine and nicotine are two very common stimulants that can cause the premature ventricular contractions (the kind that feel like a skipped beat). Excessive use of either can cause that feeling, as can stress and alcohol.
It could be caused by an electrolyte imbalance (sodium and potassium are two of the most common) in the blood; this is especially common if you’re dehydrated or over-hydrated, so a change in your water intake could be an indication, as can a recent bout of diarrhea or vomiting. Some people experience a skipped beat during exercise or after standing up suddenly.
Heart disease or a heart attack are two of the more serious underlying conditions that may lead to an irregular heartbeat. If you notice irregularities in your heart patterns occurring often, or if you are experiencing other symptoms such as fatigue, dizziness, fainting, consult your doctor for testing. If you experience a sudden rapid increase in your heart rate, shortness of breath, or chest pain, seek emergency treatment.
If you’re concerned about your heart rhythm, talk to your doctor; however, taking stock on your own of what happens when beats change can help you better understand and help them diagnose. Take your pulse to see if it seems faster or slower than normal, make a note if rhythms change when you’re doing the same activity, and whether or not they come on suddenly or gradually. If possible, give your doctor as much information as possible.
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