Most people are not really aware of their heart beating and that's a good thing. It generally means they do not have an arrhythmia — an irregular contraction of the heart muscle caused by a problem with the heart's electrical system. People often describe these skips, flips and blips as heart palpitations or heart flutters. When they happen only once in a while, last only a second or two and can be traced to something you ate, drank or did (including, possibly, falling madly, deeply in love) a fluttering heart is probably harmless.
But if a fluttering heart is causing a change in your lifestyle, you should probably make an appointment with your primary care physician or heart specialist to have it checked out, according to Dale Yoo, MD, a cardio electrophysiologist at Medical City McKinney.
If your fluttering heart is accompanied by these symptoms, head to the ER.
- Sudden weight gain
- Swollen legs
- Shortness of breath
"These symptoms can be a sign of an arrhythmia, such as atrial fibrillation (AFib)," said Dr. Yoo, "but they can also be symptoms of other heart conditions, including congestive heart failure or a pulmonary embolism. Each of these can be deadly and requires immediate medical attention."
Other signs of irregular heart rhythms.
"Heart palpitations are the most common symptom of arrhythmias," said Dr. Yoo, "but there may be other signs as well."
Additional symptoms that your fluttering heart may be something more than amore include:
- Feeling dizzy or lightheaded
- Passing out (fainting) or nearly fainting
- Feeling tired, like you can't walk as far as you used to
- Feeling ill, like you're getting a cold or the flu
- Changes in your blood pressure
- Changes in heart rate; speeding up (racing heart) or slowing down
Causes of arrhythmias and how stimulants can trigger heart palpitations.
There are many potential causes of arrhythmias, according to Dr. Yoo, including physiological changes that you have no control over (such as aging) and some that you may not even be aware of. But arrhythmias can also be caused by behaviors that you do have some control over.
Potential causes of irregular heart rhythms include:
- Taking the wrong dosage
- Forgetting to take them
- Taking too little or too much
- Taking some diet pills, cough medicines, decongestants and prescription medicines
- Stress and anxiety
- Theophylline (found in tea)
- Red Bull® and other energy drinks
- Tobacco and alcohol
If you think your heart palpitations are caused by any of the potential triggers above, talk to your doctor so you can identify them and take steps to decrease them.
"Anything that increases adrenaline or an adrenaline state (increased awareness) is a stimulant and can cause heart palpitations," said Dr. Yoo. "There are lots of triggers for arrhythmias and a wide variety of symptoms, including heart fluttering, but usually there's a dramatic change in what you can do or what you call normal."
If your heart skips a beat and it's not because of your valentine, you'll find expert emergency care at one of our many Medical City ER locations across North Texas. With average wait times posted online, if you do have an emergency, you can spend less time waiting and more time on the moments that matter most.
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