Doctor's Notes on Palpitations
Palpitations are feelings that occur when a person senses an abnormality in the beating and rhythm of their heart. Palpitations are symptoms of possible abnormal heart rhythms. Signs and symptoms of palpitations may include a feeling of a skipped beat or a feeling of fluttering and/or fullness in the chest and/or fullness in the throat with shortness of breath. Palpitations may vary in length from seconds to days (often intermittent). Long episodes can cause chest pains, shortness of breath, sweating, and nausea and vomiting (resembling a heart attack). Some palpitations are warning signs of serious heart rhythm problems. They include lightheadedness, fainting, and sudden death (ventricular fibrillation). The types of palpitations are premature atrial and ventricular contractions (extra beats), supraventricular tachycardia (very fast heartbeats like 150 beats per minute), atrial fibrillation and flutter (fast irregular and/or sometimes regular atrial beats, all too fast for the ventricles to respond), and ventricular tachycardia and/or fibrillation (fast heartbeats controlled by ventricular signals that may or may not allow ventricular contractions [ventricular tachycardia] or fast and irregular ventricular signals that do not permit ventricular contractions [ventricular fibrillation, that often causes sudden death]).
Causes of all palpitations are irregular electric signals conducted from the atria or ventricles. These signals are influenced by electrolyte levels, anemia, hyperthyroidism, caffeine, tobacco, alcohol, drugs (albuterol, pseudoephedrine, cocaine, for example), pregnancy, hormonal changes, structural heart abnormalities, and stress.
What Are Treatments for Heart Palpitations During Pregnancy?
Palpitations during pregnancy are common and often due to the increase in the woman's blood volume. Pregnancy may cause the heart to pump faster, resulting in palpitations. Treatment methods that may help to reduce palpitations are as follows (be sure to tell your doctor you are having palpitations):
- Reduce or stop stimulant intake (coffee, alcohol, for example).
- Do relaxation techniques.
- Keep hydrated.
- Keep electrolyte intake balanced.
- Exercise on a regular pattern.
- Practice vagus nerve stimulation (breathe slow and deep about six times per minute).
If you develop more severe symptoms during palpitations, like dizziness, fainting, pain, and/or short of breath, see a medical caregiver immediately.
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Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.