People who experience heart palpitations often describe them as feeling their heart flutter, skip a beat, beat too hard or beat too fast. Often these common heart sensations are caused by non-heart related factors and are no cause for concern. However, sometimes they do signal an underlying heart condition.
Many palpitations are not caused by a heart condition and will go away on their own. Common causes of heart palpitations that are not related to the heart include:
In some cases, palpitations are a sign of an arrhythmia, which is a condition where the heart beats irregularly, too fast or too slow. In an arrhythmia, the heart's irregular rate or rhythm is caused by abnormal electric signals in the heart. According to the National Institutes of Health, less than half of those who have palpitations have arrhythmias.
"Anyone experiencing heart palpitations should bring up the concern to their primary care physician," said Adam Shapira, MD, medical director of electrophysiology services at Baylor Scott & White The Heart Hospital – Plano.
Your primary care physician can refer you to a cardiologist who can use non-invasive tests, like an EKG to record your heart's electrical activity or a monitor that's worn for 24 hours to help determine what you are feeling. Cardiologists may also use imaging tests, such as an echocardiogram, or stress tests to make a diagnosis.
It is especially important to talk with your physician if heart palpitations are accompanied by other symptoms like dizziness or confusion; light-headedness or fainting; trouble breathing; pain or pressure in the chest, jaw or arm; and abnormal sweating.
The results of testing will help determine if a heart issue may be the cause and guide treatment options. For non-heart causes, no treatment may be needed. For heart-related causes, your primary care physician, cardiologist and electrophysiologist can help determine the right treatment plan.
"Treatment depends on which arrhythmia is causing the palpitations," Dr. Shapira said. "Sometimes people simply need reassurance that it's nothing. Sometimes people need medication, or sometimes people need an ablation to correct an arrhythmia."
During an ablation, catheters are inserted into the leg veins up into the heart to map out where the abnormal electrical current causing an arrhythmia is occurring. Then, heart tissue is ablated or cauterized to prevent the current from continuing to cause problems.
"Palpitations is a broad term, and they can indicate a variety of things," Dr. Shapira said. "At Baylor Scott & White Heart – Plano, we have a repertoire of therapies at our disposal to help people who have arrhythmia problems or palpitations no matter what they may be diagnosed as."
Find out more about the electrophysiology diagnostic and treatment options offered at Baylor Scott & White Heart – Plano.
Physicians are members of the medical staff at one of Baylor Health Care System's subsidiary, community or affiliated medical centers and are neither employees nor agents of those medical centers, Baylor Scott & White The Heart Hospital – Plano or Baylor Health Care System.