American Heart Month: Palpitations and Arrhythmias
Whether your heart beats faster while watching a scary movie or flutters whenever you see your crush, it’s not uncommon for emotions to trigger heart palpitations. You may have these feelings in your chest, throat or neck, and they can occur during activity or even when you are sitting still or lying down. However, some palpitations are symptoms of arrhythmias, which are problems with the rate or rhythm of the heartbeat.
According to the National Institutes of Health, some arrhythmias are signs of heart conditions, such as heart attack, heart failure, heart valve disease or heart muscle disease. Still, less than half of the people who have palpitations have arrhythmias.
“You can take steps to reduce or prevent palpitations by avoiding things that trigger them like stress, nicotine, caffeine and alcohol,” ARH ElectrophysiologistWilliam Jeffrey Schoen, MD, explained. Electrophysiologists are dedicated to the study of the heart’s electrical system, and their area of expertise is to diagnose and treat heart arrhythmias and other heart rhythm disorders.
An arrhythmia is a problem with the rate or rhythm of the heartbeat. During an arrhythmia, the heart can beat too fast, too slow or with an irregular rhythm. Atrial fibrillation (AF) is the most common type of arrhythmia. AF occurs if rapid, disorganized electrical signals cause the heart’s two upper chambers—called the atria—to fibrillate. The term “fibrillate” means to contract very fast and irregularly. In AF, blood pools in the atria. It isn’t pumped completely into the heart’s two lower chambers, called the ventricles. As a result, the heart’s upper and lower chambers do not work together as they should.
People who have AF may not feel symptoms. However, even when AF is not noticed, it can increase the risk of stroke. In some people, AF can cause chest pain orheart failure, especially if the heart rhythm is very rapid.
“Atrial fibrillation may happen every now and then (Paroxysmal), or it may become an ongoing or long-term heart problem that lasts for many years,” statedSchoen.
Most symptoms of AF are related to how fast the heart is beating. If medicines or age slow the heart rate, the symptoms are minimized.
AF may be brief, with symptoms that come and go and end on their own. If the condition becomes ongoing, it could require treatment. People who have AF can live normal, active lives. For some people, treatment can restore normal heart rhythms.
For people who have permanent AF, treatment can help control symptoms and prevent complications. Treatment may include medicines, medical procedures and lifestyle changes. The goals of treating AF include: preventing blood clots from forming, lowering the risk of stroke; controlling how many times a minute the ventricles contract, which is important because it allows the ventricles enough time to completely fill with blood and you feel better; restoring a normal heart rhythm; treating any underlying disorder that’s causing or raising the risk of AF—for example, hyperthyroidism (too much thyroid hormone).
If you are having heart palpitations on a regular basis and want to be evaluated by a cardiologist or electrophysiologist, go online to Appalachian Regional Healthcare (ARH) at www.arh.org or call your local ARH hospital.
Source: National Institute of Health, National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute