Occasionally, I have heart palpitations; should I be worried?

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Q: Occasionally, I have heart palpitations; should I be worried?

January 30, 2015

Heart palpitations are more likely to be triggered by stress, medication or exercise than by a medical problem. Some women experience palpitations due to hormonal changes common during pregnancy, menstruation and menopause. If your palpitations last only a few seconds and happen infrequently, you probably don’t need to worry. If you have a history of heart disease and have palpitations that worsen, you’ll want to consider visiting your doctor and asking about heart monitoring tests.

Heart palpitations could signal irregular heartbeat from other causes. There are different types of arrhythmias, or heart rhythm disorders. The most common of these is atrial fibrillation, or Afib. Some people live with Afib for years without any symptoms, until their condition is discovered during a physical examination or an electrocardiogram (EKG).

An irregular heartbeat, such as Afib, is not life threatening in itself. However, it is important to treat Afib, not only to control the symptoms, but also because Afib is responsible for up to one in five of all strokes.

Another important thing to know is that if you develop Afib, you’ll want to start treatment right away, before the disease progresses. Most Afib cases that worsen do so during  the first year after diagnosis.

If you have Afib, you might experience these symptoms:

  • Palpitations, racing heartbeat, or a sensation of flip-flopping in your chest
  • Weakness
  • Trouble doing exercises you used to do
  • Fatigue
  • Lightheadedness, dizziness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain

Your doctor is the best person to help you determine whether there is cause for concern. Tell your doctor about your symptoms. He or she may order an electrocardiogram to determine if your symptoms are related to atrial fibrillation or another heart rhythm disorder. If needed, you might be referred to a cardiologist or an EP specialist (electrophysiologist), who is trained to deal directly with all electrical activities of the heart.

If you are experiencing chest pain, emergency medical action should be taken immediately, as it could be sign of heart attack (a non-electrical rhythm problem causing damage to the heart muscle tissue from lack of blood flow).

Join Dr. Lee at the Y Healthy Living Center, bring your questions, Feb. 25.

See related answer from Dr. Lee’s colleague, Dr. Ruisi.  | More on Afib.

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