Most of the time, you aren’t aware of your heart beating – which is a good thing. That generally means that you do not have an arrhythmia. But when you notice your heartbeat, or something doesn’t feel right, it can be scary.
And while some heart palpitations can be a sign of a serious problem, others are harmless. If your heart flutters, skips or blips occasionally, only for a few seconds and can be traced to something you did, ate or drank, it probably isn’t a cause for concern.
What are heart palpitations?
Heart palpitations are a symptom noticed by the senses. They are a feeling that you can have with or without arrhythmia. Palpitations can be described as:
- An unpleasant awareness of a strong, fast or irregular heartbeat
- A rapid fluttering
- A sensation of flip-flopping
- A pounding in the chest or neck
- A feeling that your heart is skipping beats
What is arrhythmia?
Arrhythmia means abnormal heart rhythm. The heart is a muscle that requires electricity for it to contract and relax (pump blood). These electrical impulses begin in the sinoatrial node (sinus node) and circulate through the upper chambers and then to lower chambers of the heart. This causes the heart to fill with blood and then squeeze and pump the blood out to various organs.
An arrhythmia can occur when electrical signals start at locations other than the sinus node. This can happen due to abnormal electrical circuits in either the upper (atria) or lower (ventricles) chambers.
There are many different types of arrhythmias. Your heart may beat too fast (tachycardia) or too slow (bradycardia). It may skip beats or beat irregularly.
An irregular heartbeat disrupts blood from flowing normally through the body. Some heart arrhythmias can put you at risk for a life-threatening condition, such as stroke, heart attack, heart failure or sudden cardiac arrest.
A normal resting heart rate is 60 to 100 beats per minute
What are the symptoms of a heart arrhythmia?
- Chest pain
- Lightheadedness, dizziness
- Heart palpitations
- Shortness of breath
It is also important to note, that someone can have arrhythmia without any symptoms. That’s why it’s so important to see your primary care physician yearly for a check-up.
What are common causes of abnormal heartbeats?
Abnormal heart rhythms can be caused by a cardiac condition, a psychiatric condition or other miscellaneous causes. Some possible reasons for arrhythmia are:
- Abnormal levels of potassium or other substances in the body
- Heart attack, or damage from a heart attack
- Cardiovascular disease
- Heart disease that is present at birth (congenital)
- Heart failure or an enlarged heart
- Overactive or underactive thyroid gland
- Alcohol, caffeine or nicotine
- Some illegal drugs or legal medicines, such as some over-the-counter cold and allergy medicines and some medicines that treat high blood pressure
- Panic or anxiety attacks
- Genetic mutations that are inherited and run in families
When to seek medical care
Abnormal heart rhythms can occur in both children and adults. If your heart palpitations are few and far between, your palpitations are probably nothing to be concerned about. But if you have heart disease or symptoms that occur frequently or are getting worse, talk to your doctor. If you suspect a heart arrhythmia (have any of the symptoms above) or have a very irregular pulse, seek immediate medical attention and head to your closest ER so you can be properly evaluated.
Arrhythmia Care in Kansas City
Once cardiac arrhythmias are diagnosed, they are treatable. A Kansas City arrhythmia specialist (cardiologist specializing in electrophysiology), should evaluate any abnormal heart rhythms of concern. With 11 ERs, five Kansas City Heart Rhythm Institute practice locations and Pediatric arrhythmia services at Overland Park Regional Medical Center, we make it easy and convenient to get the quality heart care you need.