So many of the patients I see experience palpitations- but what are these and why do they occur.
Palpitations are an awareness of your heart beat and may represent an underlying condition or may be completely benign. They may feel like your heart is racing, a skipped beat, a thump in your chest or butterflies in your chest. Palpitations mean different things to different people.
If your palpitations feel as if your heart is missing a beat or is stopping this can be scary! Often however this is due to something known as ventricular ectopics or premature ventricular contractions. As the name implies, ectopic heart beats don’t originate from the usual place and can be quite disconcerting. We all have ectopic beats but some people are more aware of them than others. Ectopics may occasionally occur if there is an abnormality with the structure of your heart but in most people this is not the case. They typically occur at night or at rest when your heart rate is lower and not as noticeable when you’re busy or active. Alcohol, caffeine, stress and lack of sleep are the most common triggers.
When your heart beat feels irregular this may be due to the ectopics described above but may also be due to a condition called Atrial fibrillation (A fib or AF for short). This is when your heart beats irregularly in a chaotic manner. Many people are unaware that they have AF so getting your doctor or a pharmacist to do a pulse check is a simple way of being sure.
Palpitations can also be due to other heart rhythm disturbances. An SVT or supra-ventricular tachycardia can feel like your heart is racing fast and regular. Many patients describe feeling their heart pounding in their chest or neck. SVT’s often start abruptly and with no warning and can often happen at any time. They can make you feel light headed and dizzy.
Often an awareness of your heart beat is not abnormal and can be quite common at times of increased stress and/or anxiety
If you’re worried about your symptoms it is best to seek specialist advice. By hearing from you what you experience, along with some simple tests, we can usually work out what is causing the symptoms. Often the problem doesn’t need any treatment and improves when you know its not dangerous.
Simple lifestyle measures such as reducing alcohol and caffeine, minimising stress and sleeping more can be very helpful. If treatment is required, medications or a simple curative procedure called an ablation may be suitable and help eliminate your symptoms.