Irregular heartbeats and what they mean for your health.

Have you ever felt your heart racing, pounding, fluttering, or skipping a beat? Called palpitations, these skipped and/or extra heartbeats can be felt in your chest, neck, or throat. You can feel them anytime: while you’re active or at rest, sitting, standing, or lying down.

When your ticker isn’t ticking like usual, it can be frightening. Sometimes the abnormal beats occur frequent enough to become bothersome and annoying. Thankfully, most palpitations are harmless and will go away on their own. Some palpitations, however, are symptoms of an underlying heart or medical condition and warrant a trip to the doctor.

The next time you feel that flutter in your chest or feel your heart pounding, take these facts about heart palpitations to heart.

Non-Medical Causes

Studies recently reviewed by Arlington Fit Body Bootcamp suggests that sometimes the cause of palpitations is medical or heart-related, but many times the cause is due to other factors. Strong emotions like stress, fear, and anxiety can cause a racing heart. Many people experience palpitations during panic attacks.

The nicotine in cigarettes, the caffeine in your coffee, and illegal street drugs can also cause irregular beats, as can the alcohol in your beer or wine. Heartbeat irregularities can be a side effect of herbal and nutritional supplements and certain medications (diet pills, asthma inhalers, decongestants, and those used to treat arrhythmias and thyroid problems).

Many women have palpitations during the hormonal changes that happen during pregnancy, menstruation, and perimenopause. But men and women and even children can experience abnormal heartbeats that are triggered by vigorous exercise. Additionally, big meals and high amounts of monosodium glutamate, sodium, or nitrates can generate palpitations.

Medical-Related Causes

Scary as a heart palpitation is, the above list of causes is generally no reason for concern and can be remedied with simple lifestyle changes. However, palpitations due to medical or heart-related conditions require the attention of a medical professional.

Several medical conditions including fever, low blood pressure, thyroid disease, anemia, dehydration, unbalanced electrolyte levels, and low blood sugar can trigger palpitations.

Other causes include arrhythmia, a history of heart attack, coronary artery disease, congestive heart failure, heart muscle problems, or abnormal valves, and low oxygen or potassium levels in the blood. When heart palpitations are coupled with any of these, medical treatment is required.

When to Call the Doctor

Infrequent palpitations that only last a few seconds usually don’t require a trip to the doctor, but frequent palpitations should be evaluated. If you can’t figure out what’s causing your palpitations, go ahead and see your doctor to rule out possible underlying conditions. Since you should never mess with your heart, call for emergency care if palpitations are accompanied by chest pain, fainting, dizziness, shortness of breath, unusual sweating, or loss of consciousness.

Getting Back in Rhythm

Treatment for palpitations will depend on the underlying cause. If the cause seems to be lifestyle related, lifestyle changes must be made. For example, if palpitations occur with too much caffeine, you may need to limit your number of morning coffees. When the cause is stress, relaxation techniques need to be applied. Whatever the cause, Arlington fitness center believes that identifying your trigger is the first step in eliminating palpitations.

Sometimes the cause isn’t as obvious and your doctor may need to perform blood tests, chest X-rays, an electrocardiogram to track abnormalities, an echocardiogram (an ultrasound of the heart), event monitoring (tracking episodes over a period of time), or the use of a Holter monitor (a heart monitor worn for several days to detect the heart’s electrical signals). The results from these tests will help determine a possible underlying medical or heart-related condition. Treatment may include medications or medial procedures.

Seek Help, Stay Calm. Before rushing to the doctor for palpitations, take heart that irregular heartbeats are rarely dangerous. In fact, studies reviewed by a personal trainer in Arlington revealed that one out of three normal hearts experience palpitations.