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Are Heart Palpitations a Sign of Heart Rhythm Disorders?

Are Heart Palpitations a Sign of Heart Rhythm Disorders?

Have you ever felt your heart fluttering, pounding or beating irregularly without any particular reason? You might have experienced what’s called heart palpitations.

Heart palpitations might seem scary, but for the most part they are pretty harmless. However, it’s also important to know when to worry about heart palpitations, as there are situations when they can signify a bigger health problem, such as heart arrhythmia.

What are heart palpitations?

Heart palpitations happen when your heartbeat suddenly becomes irregular. It can feel too fast but with a regular rhythm, or in some cases, it feels faster than normal, but with an irregular rhythm.

Palpitations can be caused by a number of things, including:

  • stress
  • anxiety
  • emotional triggers
  • diet
  • health problems, such as having a heart condition

Heart palpitations can sometimes by a symptom of hyperthyroidism or a heart rhythm disorder. Rhythm disorders are also known as heart arrhythmia.

What could heart palpitations be a sign of?

Experiencing infrequent palpitations, or for only short periods of time are relatively normal. But experiencing frequent palpitations can be a sign of an underlying condition.

Here are some potential reasons why you might be experiencing prolonged arrhythmia:

  • You’re experiencing a panic or anxiety attack.
  • You’re under a lot of stress.
  • Pregnant women also experience palpitations.
  • Certain types of medicine such as asthma medication can sometimes cause palpitations.
  • Hyperthyroidism, or having an overactive thyroid gland is a potential reason why you might be experiencing arrhythmia.
  • Heart problems, or problems with the circulatory system such as hypertension.
  • It can also be a sign of weakened heart muscles.

People who have been diagnosed with hypertension, or have a history of hypertension or stroke in their family should be mindful of any irregular heartbeats.

This is because your palpitations might be related to a heart condition. When palpitations are accompanied by the following, please see your doctor immediately:

  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Fainting
  • Extreme dizziness
  • Severe shortness of breath

What are some of the common types of heart arrhythmia?

Heart arrhythmias generally fall under different types, depending on which part of the heart they are affecting as well as what might be causing the palpitation in the first place.

Being informed about the types of heart palpitations lets you know when to worry, or not worry about any irregularities in your heartbeat.

Premature contractions

One of the more common types of arrhythmia are the result of premature contractions in the upper chambers of the heart, or what’s called the atria.

During this type of palpitation, the atria contract earlier than normal. When this happens, they usually rest a bit longer than normal to make up for the missed heartbeat.

This can sometimes feel like a very strong heartbeat, since the heart is trying to push out any blood that accumulated during the pause. Premature contractions are generally no cause for concern, as they are almost always benign, and are normal occurrences.

Atrial fibrillation

Atrial fibrillation is a type of heart palpitation that happens when the atria beat out of sync with the lower chambers, or the ventricles.

It feels like a rapid but irregular heartbeat, and can cause shortness of breath as well as weakness when it happens.

One risk associated with atrial fibrillation is having blood clots in the heart. When blood clots develop, these can travel throughout the body and cause blockage that can result in organ damage.

This is why it’s important for anyone who experiences atrial fibrillation to get in touch with their doctor in order to see if there are any problems with your heart.

Supraventricular tachycardia

This is a type of heart palpitation that happens above the ventricles, and usually manifests as an abnormally fast heartbeat.

A supraventricular tachycardia comes and goes, but if it happens too frequently, it could be a sign of when to worry about heart palpitations.

The typical signs of a supraventricular tachycardia include the following:

  • Abnormally fast heartbeat
  • Dizziness or feeling lightheaded
  • Shortness of breath
  • Pounding in your neck
  • Feeling faint
  • Sweating

For the most part, experiencing this type of palpitation is not a cause for concern. But symptoms such as shortness of breath, feeling dizzy, and a pounding in your neck might warrant a visit to the doctor.

Ventricular fibrillation

This type of arrhythmia is more dangerous than the others. As it states in the name, ventricular fibrillation affects the ventricles, or the lower chambers of the heart.

What happens during this type of palpitation is instead of pumping blood, the ventricles start to fibrillate, or quiver. This means that the heart isn’t pumping blood in the body, and it can be very dangerous.

This is the type of arrhythmia that usually happens during a heart attack, or after. The cause isn’t always known, but it is related to the heart not having enough blood, so the electrical signals that tell the heart to pump can instead cause it to fibrillate.

The usual symptoms of ventricular fibrillation include the following:

  • Very fast and irregular heartbeat
  • Dizziness
  • Fainting
  • Shortness of breath
  • Heart attack or cardiac arrest

Experiencing ventricular fibrillation without any feeling of dizziness or fainting usually isn’t cause for concern. However, if it continues and you start to feel these symptoms, then it would be best to get to a hospital as soon as possible.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Sources

https://www.health.harvard.edu/heart-disease-overview/skipping-a-beat–the-surprise-of-palpitations

https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/heart-palpitations/

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/heart-palpitations/symptoms-causes/syc-20373196

https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/ventricular-fibrillation

https://www.health.harvard.edu/diseases-and-conditions/heart-palpitations-mostly-harmless

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/ventricular-tachycardia/symptoms-causes/syc-20355138

https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/supraventricular-tachycardia-svt/

https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/17084-heart-palpitations

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/heart-palpitations/symptoms-causes/syc-20373196

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Written by Jan Alwyn Batara Updated Jul 02
Medically reviewed by Mike-Kenneth Go Doratan, M.D.
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