Palpitation is an abnormally perceived heartbeat. Although the heart is working nonstop, we seldom notice its beating. If we notice a heartbeat, the heart seems to be working unusually: beating too fast or too slow, skipping a beat or adding an extra one, or pounding and throbbing. These sensations are called palpitations. Heart palpitations can be triggered by stress, exercise, alcohol, caffeine, medication or, more rarely, a medical condition. Although heart palpitations can be worrisome, they're mostly harmless. In rare cases, heart palpitations can be a symptom of diseases like hyperthyroidism or a serious heart condition, such as an irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia) or coronary artery disease. If you experience palpitations very often or if they are accompanied by additional symptoms like dizziness, nausea, shortness of breath, or chest discomfort, you should seek medical advice.
How Are Palpitations Diagnosed?
Because many conditions, both harmless as well as serious, may cause palpitations, a thorough examination is necessary to determine the underlying problem. First, a physician will examine your medical history and check your heart sounds and pulse. Afterwards, he will perform an electrocardiogram (EKG or ECG) which graphs your heart’s electrical activity at rest and during physical effort (a so-called stress test). To the experienced physician, an EKG conveys a large amount of information about the heart, its function and potential diseases. Further heart health issues may be recognized through echocardiography.
If a patient suffers from palpitations which do not occur during their doctor’s examination, or the physician needs to know when they occur in daily life, a long-term EKG is indicated. In addition to portable Holter devices, which record the EKG-curve continuously over 24 hours, there are event recorders that you activate only when you actually experience palpitations. A small heart monitor, like the BioMonitor 2 produced by BIOTRONIK, is able to observe the heart´s activity over several years. This type of long-term monitoring may be necessary for people with certain heart disease or those suffering from palpitations with unknown but suspected serious causes, because they are associated with symptoms like fainting (syncope).
To learn more about the following conditions associated with heart palpitations, click on the links below: