Heart Palpitation: Can It Be Life-Threatening?
Most of us don’t really notice the beat of our hearts unless it’s racing, pounding, or fluttering, which are all the feelings that make us overly aware of the heartbeat in our chest. This is what heart palpitation is, and everyone has experienced this condition at some point in their lives. While most palpitations are harmless and resolve on their own, it could also be an indication of a serious health condition, which may require proper diagnosis and treatment.
In the case of heart palpitation, Immediate medical assistance is preferred as it can be a sign of serious heart disease. If palpitation comes with other symptoms like shortness of breath, dizziness, chest pain, and fainting, then it may require urgent medical attention.
Heart Palpitation causes:
Palpitation can occur as a result of an underlying heart disease, which may require immediate medical attention. Other possible causes include:
- Stress, anxiety, fear, panic, shock, or any other strong emotions
- Caffeine, nicotine, smoking, alcohol, or use of drugs like cocaine
- Low blood sugar level, low blood pressure, or dehydration
- Hormonal changes, especially during pregnancy or menstruation. Palpitations during pregnancy can be also a sign of anemia.
- Medications, including cough and cold medicines, nutritional supplements, and asthma inhalers.
Diagnosing the cause:
The diagnosis of palpitation can be quite difficult as the palpitation may not occur during the diagnosis. This complicates the situation and the doctor may conduct many tests to determine the cause of the condition.
It usually starts with a physical exam where the doctor may ask questions related to the daily lifestyle including physical activities, diet, current medications, and health conditions. In some conditions, a blood test, urine test, or a stress test may also take place, mainly to extend the possibilities of the cause of palpitation.
After the physical exam, there may be other tests including:
- Electrocardiogram (EKG): It is performed to assess the heart rate and rhythm. This test can detect heart disease, heart attack, and any abnormalities in the rhythm that may cause a heart attack or any other heart condition. It records the electrical activity of the heartbeat through a small electrode placed on the skin which is displayed on a graph showing how fast and steady the heart rhythm is.
- Holter monitoring: This test requires wearing a monitor on the chest which continuously records the heart electric signals for 24-48 hours or longer if required. The device has small electrodes which are attached to the skin for recording the heart’s activity. Holter monitoring is preferred over EKG where monitoring is required for a longer time as EKG only monitors the activity for a short time.
- Event recording: This is used when the Holter monitoring technique doesn’t prove to be effective enough to catch the abnormal rhythms. This test is performed using an event recorder which is worn by the patient throughout the day or whenever needed to be used. The device can be used when the person is facing the heart palpitation symptoms simply by pushing a button which starts recording the heartbeat.
- Echocardiogram: It is like an ultrasound of the heart which portrays a graphic outline of the heart’s movement. When the ultrasound waves are transmitted, their echoes are recorded to create moving images on a video monitor.
Treatment for palpitation:
The treatment directly depends on the cause of the condition. The doctor may need to figure out any underlying medical condition causing the disease. If the causes are related to lifestyle habits only, such as smoking, caffeine, or alcohol, then reducing or eliminating the use of these may be the only treatment required to cure the condition.
In other situations, medications may be required to cope with the disease or the factors causing it. The doctor may also recommend some lifestyle changes to deal with the situation, which include:
- Relaxation techniques: Stress and excitement boost the adrenaline rush in the body. Since, stress can become a cause of palpitation, relaxing the body and mind can help in staying clear of this condition. There are many options available for relaxing, such as medication, Taichi, and yoga.
- Vagal maneuvers: Vagal maneuvers stimulate the vagus nerve and help to regulate fast heartbeat. The maneuvers can be performed at home after gaining a doctor’s approval.
- Drink more water: Dehydration is one of the causes of palpitation as it causes the blood to become thicker, which is harder for the heart to pump through the veins. This can increase the pulse rate and lead to palpitation.
- Electrolyte balance: Electrolytes help in moving electrical signals throughout the body which are essential for the proper functioning of the heart. These electrolytes include potassium, calcium, magnesium, and sodium, which are best obtained from foods like bananas, sweet potato, avocados, spinach, and dairy products. The goal is to make a balance and avoid too many electrolytes as they can cause problems due to an electrolyte imbalance in the body.