Listen to Your Heart Palpitations

Does your heart literally skip a beat? Does it beat faster at certain moments? If you have these kinds of heart palpitations, how worried should you be?

“Palpitations are one of the most common patient complaints I see,”  says Sandra S. McCearley, MD, cardiologist and electrophysiologist at Saint Francis Medical Center. “The majority of these cases correlate with benign conditions needing little or no medical therapy. However, there are situations that do require treatment and can be successfully treated with medications or a procedure.”

McCearley Sandra_MG_0379When diagnosing palpitations, your physician will want to get a detailed history of your symptoms. McCearley asks her patients what their palpitations actually feel like. “Are you feeling a pounding sensation in your chest, racing or fluttering heart sensations, a feeling of flip-flopping in your chest, irregular heartbeats or an irregular heart rhythm?” she says. “Your physician needs to know how frequently these sensations occur, what leads up to or triggers them and how long they occur each time.”

McCearley also asks her patients if they have any other recurring symptoms, such as chest pain, shortness of breath, nausea, lightheadedness or a feeling of fullness in the neck or throat. There are several tests available to determine the underlying cause of the palpitations, including an electrocardiogram (ECG), lab work and ambulatory monitors such as a 24-hour Holter monitor or a 30-day event monitor.

“Cardiac symptoms can be a manifestation of another disorder such as a thyroid disorder or anxiety disorder, but all symptoms must be investigated to determine the etiology or cause,” says McCearley. “It is critical for your physician to be notified if you have palpitations associated with passing out or nearly passing out. This may represent a more serious condition, which would require a more urgent evaluation.

“An electrophysiology study with radiofrequency ablation is an option to treat the arrhythmias if they are identified on the monitors,” she continues. “This can be discussed with an electrophysiologist who specializes in diagnosing and treating heart rhythm disorders.”

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