What are palpitations?
Palpitations is an awareness of one’s own heart beating. Patients will often times describe a sensation of their heart beating fast, irregularly, or slowly. Sometimes, patients will just notice a pause.
What causes palpitations?
Palpitations may be a sign of an abnormal heart rhythm (arrhythmia). In some cases, this may be early signs of potentially dangerous rhythm. In other cases, it may simply be due to an extra beat that is harmless. Any type of abnormal heart rhythm, even if it is a single beat, can sometimes cause palpitations.
Are palpitations dangerous?
Palpitations are simply the feeling of an abnormal heart beat or series of beats. Without appropriate cardiac work-up, it is not possible to determine if the palpitations are being caused by a dangerous type of rhythm or one that is less concerning. Generally, palpitations are found to be due to heart rhythm problems that do not pose immediate danger. In these cases, the abnormal rhythm needs treatment before it causes bigger problems but does not carry significant risk in the short term. However, in some cases, the feeling of palpitations may be the early warning signs of a very serious problem such as abnormal rhythms that may result in sudden cardiac arrest. Due to this, you should always inform your doctor if you feel palpitations so that the dangerous causes can be ruled out.
What should I do?
If a patient senses palpitations, they should inform their doctor. Generally, their physician will often order an EKG to study the patient’s heart rhythm and to look for other signs of problems. If the patient only experiences palpitations occasionally, it may be difficult to capture an abnormal heart rhythm on an EKG at the time that the patient feels the palpitations. A physician may order a Holter Monitor. These monitors are like wearing a portable EKG that can record your heart rhythm for 24-48 hours. If the palpitations do not typically occur daily, an event monitor may be ordered. This is similar to a holter monitor but can record heart rhythms and arrhythmias over 30 days.