When you think about how we use the phrase “my heart skipped a beat,” you see that it covers all sorts of things. You might use it to describe a scare, a moment of happiness, or even surprise — and everyone would still understand your meaning.
Interestingly, the physical sensation of a fluttering heart can be due to a wide variety of causes, just as the descriptive phrase can mean so many things.
At Heart & Vascular Institute, our experts treat patients who have heart palpitations, the medical term for what happens when your heart does skip a beat.
In the vast majority of cases, experiencing a too-fast heartbeat or a fluttering feeling in your chest isn’t a medical emergency. But, if you have other symptoms, you may need to seek medical care to make sure you don’t have a more serious problem.
Don’t worry when …
Common, non-emergency causes of heart palpitations include:
- Having too much caffeine
- Being under unusual stress
- Drinking alcohol
- Having low blood sugar
- Taking certain medications, such as an inhaler for asthma
- Having a panic attack
- Experiencing a strong emotion
Sometimes, you don’t know the reason for the heart palpitations, and it can be scary to feel as if your heart isn’t beating regularly.
Seek medical care when…
You should seek medical care if your heart palpitations are accompanied by other symptoms, such as:
- Shortness of breath
- Pain or discomfort in your chest
- Feeling faint or losing consciousness
- Severe dizziness
- Feeling like your heart is alternately too fast and too slow
- Feeling weak or extremely fatigued
These symptoms along with palpitations could be signs of a more serious issue, such as arrhythmia or a heart attack.
Arrhythmia means a problem with the regular rhythm or beat of your heart. Arrhythmias have several causes, such as having a chronic condition like diabetes or having had a heart attack previously. Heavy alcohol use or smoking can also cause arrhythmias.
Numerous treatments are available, but it’s important to get help if you have an arrhythmia. Without treatment, it can cause damage to your heart.
One of the more common causes of arrhythmia is atrial fibrillation, sometimes called AFib. When you have atrial fibrillation, the upper chambers of your heart don’t beat effectively, and a clot can form, dramatically increasing your risk of stroke.
Treatment of heart palpitations
The first order of business when you come to Heart & Vascular Institute with heart palpitations is determining the cause. Once we do that, we can discuss treatment options.
You may need to take diagnostic tests, such as an electrocardiogram, a stress test, or blood tests. Depending on the results, your doctor may suggest lifestyle changes, prescribe medications, or discuss other treatment options.
Your heart skipping a beat once in a while isn’t something to worry about — especially when there’s an obvious reason, such as being stressed or over-caffeinated.
But if you feel like your heart is flopping about frequently for no clear cause, or you have other symptoms that accompany an unusual heartbeat, seek care.
Make an appointment today at one of Heart & Vascular Institute’s three convenient locations, in Dearborn, Detroit, and Southfield, Michigan.