Palpitations are an abnormally perceived heartbeat. Although the heart is working continuously, 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, and you should seek medical advice.
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 (ECG) which graphs your heart’s electrical activity at rest and during physical effort (a so-called stress test). To the experienced physician, an ECG conveys a large amount of information about the heart, its function and potential diseases. Further heart health issues may be recognized through echocardiography or cardiac magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).
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 ECG is indicated. In addition to portable Holter devices, which record the ECG-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: