A Racing, Pounding Heartbeat: When You Should Be Concerned

Our hearts beat 50 to 100 times a minute but we are usually not aware of it. When we do notice our heart beats, we may think of them as “palpitations.”

Benign palpitations are often caused by our everyday activities: when we exercise, drink caffeine or alcohol, or are nervous or excited. Some people become more aware of their own hearts beating while lying down at night when the distractions from the surrounding environment are minimal. Those types of palpitations are normally not associated with other symptoms and don’t usually require specific medical treatment.

On the other hand, abnormal palpitations are caused by either an abnormally fast heart rate, which causes pounding sensations in the chest, the neck or the jaw, or by occasional extra beats that give the feeling of a skipped heart beat. These types of palpitations are caused by abnormal electrical signals in the heart, known as “arrhythmias.”

Most of these conditions are not life threatening, but they can be a source of real concern for individuals suffering from them. The symptoms associated with these arrhythmias vary from a merely skipped beat sensation or racing in the chest, to chest pain, shortness of breath, dizziness or even passing-out.

The definite diagnosis is made by recording and analyzing the electrical heart signals using electrocardiography (ECG or EKG). Many arrhythmias can be treated or managed either with medications or sometimes with more invasive procedures. The medical field that deals with these issues is known as cardiac electrophysiology. An electrophysiologist is a cardiologist who manages patients with arrhythmias.

“It is important for individuals who have abnormal palpitations to seek medical attention, especially since many of these arrhythmias affect young, otherwise healthy individuals who may not think that they have a heart condition,” says Mossaab Shuraih, M.D., a cardiac electrophysiologist affiliated with Memorial Hermann Southeast Hospital.

It’s an Emergency!

Call 911 immediately if you are having heart palpitations and you are short of breath, lightheaded or dizzy, feel faint or have chest pain or unusual sweating.

For more information about heart and vascular services at Memorial Hermann Southeast Hospital, visit www.memorialhermann.org/southeast.

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