Palpitations: What Your Heart Is Trying to Tell You

October 11, 2013

The human body is a remarkable and complex machine. This miraculous machine is composed of numerous canals, cavities and apparatus that we call organ systems.

Everyone receives this equipment free of charge, and it functions in a coordinated effort to move fluids, solids and electrical energy throughout our bodies for a very important purpose: to allow us to live our lives.

Most of the time, we prefer not to be too aware of all of these functions. We have a “don’t bother me, I won’t bother you” approach. However, every so often, we hear from our bodies. This message is what doctors call symptoms.

The heart is a perfect example. It fills and squeezes constantly, and hopefully we are never aware of it. Only when the beating is “irregular” or “hard” do we become aware, and this awareness of the heart beating is known as a palpitation.

Palpitations are the symptom of an abnormal rhythm — or misfires — of the heart’s electrical system. Although scary, often it is not a medical emergency.

Abnormal heart rhythms — arrhythmias — can be dangerous, but they are also commonly benign.

Palpitations can be acquired either at birth and/or with aging and the development of heart disease. Palpitations are not always associated with underlying heart disease; sometimes too much stress (emotional and/or physical) can cause them to occur in an otherwise healthy heart.

For a person with a skipped or rapid heartbeat, the urgency to assess this should be related to the circumstances and the accompanying symptoms. If those symptoms are associated with fainting, dizziness, chest pain or other worrisome feelings, you should seek immediate medical attention by calling 911.

If the palpitations come and go without other symptoms, the first step is a routine evaluation by a cardiologist. Rest assured that there are many simple and painless noninvasive methods used to make a proper diagnosis and therapy plan.

The best advice to keep your heart healthy and to avoid stressing it too much is:
> Exercise (all you really need to do is raise your pulse 10 to 15 beats for 20 minutes).
> Do not smoke.
> Eat a balanced diet and don’t over indulge.
> Avoid dehydration; electrolyte imbalances will cause misfires.
> Meditate or take part in a stress-relieving activity.

A patient who is diagnosed with an arrhythmia should see a heart-rhythm specialist, a cardiologist who specializes in the treatment of arrhythmias.

Heart-rhythm doctors diagnosis the condition and give it fancy names such as atrial fibrillation, ventricular tachycardia or supraventricular tachycardia.

Professionals in the field are dedicated to treating arrhythmias by offering simple, safe and effective curative catheter heart procedures known as
ablations and with implantable devices such as pacemakers.

Most importantly, the symptoms are removed, the equipment is silent again, and the machine can get back to its primary purpose: to serve you so you can live your life.

Dr. Jeffrey Banker is a heart-rhythm cardiologist at the Heart Center at Sinai Hospital.

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