Tuesday, March 16, 2010
Have you ever had the sensation that your heart was jumping around, skipping beats or "fluttering"? Doctors use the word "palpitations" to describe this feeling. Patients experiencing palpitations are often very worried that they are going to have a heart attack. The good news is that the vast majority of the time, early or skipped heart beats cause nothing more than the simple sensation of a heart "hiccup". They are not dangerous, and do NOT lead to additional problems. (Of course, you need to check with your doctor about your symptoms to be sure you are not in the percentage that has a truly concerning arrhythmia, but be reassured this is uncommon.) Now, if your "heart hiccups" are also associated with increasing shortness of breath or trouble exercising- that's a different ball game, so head to your doctor now to be checked out.
Heart attack symptoms, on the other hand, rarely involve any type of flipping sensations- instead, think more about escalating pressure and squeezing chest discomfort, as well as nausea, sweating, and shortness of breath. Palpitations, on the other hand, most often occur without any other types of discomfort, and may occur in healthy young people as well as those medically challenged.
There are numerous triggers for palpitations. The most common ones I see in my practice are decongestants and caffeine. Alcohol overindulgence is another frequent cause. Once we identify the trigger, avoidance is the simple treatment. For patients who develop persistent palpitations, there are medications available to reduce the symptoms (and therefore the patient's anxiety from the symptoms) but they are not typically necessary.
BOTTOM LINE: If your heart is flip-flopping, reduce stimulants such as caffeine and decongestants, and head to your doctor to get checked out- but don't worry that this is leading up to a heart attack.