Heart palpitations are a type of abnormal heartbeat. This gives an affected person the feeling that their heart is beating exceptionally fast or hard, skipping beats, or fluttering. The patient may feel this sensation in his/her chest, neck, or throat.
Heart palpitations, fortunately, are usually not serious. They may be a response to stress or anxiety, or to chemical stimulants, such as caffeine or nicotine. It is not uncommon for a pregnant woman to experience heart palpitations. It could even be food-related. It’s advisable for the patient to keep a log of when palpitations occur and what activities he/she was involved in that day, including foods and beverages consumed, nicotine use, and even any medications or vitamins taken. This can aid in finding triggers and prevent palpitations in the future. However, in rare circumstances, these palpitations can be a sign of a more serious cardiac condition. Heart-related causes of palpitations may include prior heart attack, coronary artery disease, congestive heart failure, heart valve problems, or other heart muscle problems. Because of the potential for these serious conditions to occur, it is important to schedule an appointment with your doctor as soon as possible if you’re experiencing palpitations.
In addition to a general physical exam, a doctor may order additional tests to determine the cause of palpitations, such as:
Electrocardiogram – Sometimes abbreviated as ECG or EKG, this test monitors the electrical activity in the heart and monitors any abnormalities in heartbeat. This painless procedure involves sensors placed on the skin and may be done while the patient is at rest or while exercising.
Holter Monitor – This is a device the patient wears, usually for 24 to 48 hours, while performing normal, everyday activities. It records any abnormalities in heart activity that might have been missed during an EKG.
Echocardgiogram – This ultrasound of the heart uncovers detailed information about an individual’s heart structure and function.
The treatment for heart palpitations depends on the cause. If it is indeed a reaction to a stimulant or a food, avoiding that substance is the most effective treatment. If it is stress or anxiety related, relaxation exercises may be recommended, such as yoga, tai chi, aromatherapy, or meditation. If a cardiac condition is the cause, your doctor will discuss with you the best way to treat the causing factor.