Heart Palpitations: When is it Serious?

Having heart palpitations is often associated with a racing heart beat. But the term covers other irregularities related to the body’s “electrical system” that should generate a normal pulse.

The sensation of skipping a beat or a racing pulse is when the heart’s electrical impulses are thrown out of rhythm. Arrhythmia refers to an abnormal heart rhythm, which may feel like a fluttering or a brief pause in beats. The condition can also result in a slowdown or acceleration of your heart rate. (Bradycardia is when the heart rate is too slow — less than 60 beats per minute. Tachycardia is when the heart rate is too fast — more than 100 beats per minute.)

Atrial fibrillation, also called AFib, is a type of irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia) that can result in blood clots, stroke, heart failure and other heart-related complications. At least 2.7 million Americans are living with AFib.

Video by George Carvalho and Alcyene C. de Almeida Rodrigues

“Heart palpitations can be a serious problem … having to do with the electricity of the heart,” said Rozan Razzouk, M.D., a family medicine physician with Baptist Health Primary Care. “You can have a skipped heart beat. It’s not just something related to the heart beating too fast. It could be arrhythmia, atrial fibrillation or tachycardia.”

Any type of arrhythmia can be detected by a primary care physician during a thorough checkup.

An electrocardiogram (EKG) is a simple test that detects and measures the heart’s electrical activity. It’s the most common test used to diagnose arrhythmia.

Many people may get so-called “heart palpitations” on occasion and dismiss the condition as incidental, something resulting from too much stress or physical activity. But if you have what feels like an irregular heart rate at rest, it’s time to tell you doctor, especially if you are older than 60.

The most serious arrhythmia affects people older than 60. Older adults are also more likely to have heart disease and other health problems that can lead to arrhythmia, including high blood pressure, diabetes, sleep apnea and an overactive or under-active thyroid gland. Infections that damage the heart muscle or the sac around the heart can also raise the risk for arrhythmia.

“If you are resting, palpitations could be a bad sign,” said Dr. Razzouk. “With older adults, heart palpitations are more likely to be related to heart disease.”

Watch the video now for more on “heart palpitations” from Dr. Razzouk.

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