Palpitations or Arrhythmias – What Causes the Heart to Beat Abnormally?
It is intriguing to note that when alone/idle or while doing sedentary work, we hardly notice the heart beating. The heart does what it is meant to do without a break. It serves as an engine fueling the human body to function. We only notice the heart pounding in the chest cavity when doing rigorous or arduous tasks such as running, lifting, brisk walking, etc. This fast pacing of the heart is normal, considering the activity being performed.
However, have you ever experienced heart beating faster even though you are either at rest or performing chores that are not strenuous?
Alternatively, does your heart beat slow even though you are performing physically demanding tasks?
We all are familiar with the beautiful synchronous sound a heart produces (Lub Dub)when pumping out blood, aren’t we? We all do recognize that sound. Sometimes, when performing physically challenging tasks, our heart tends to skip/miss a beat. This is considered normal, but is it happening more often?
If your response to the questions mentioned above is a big YES, then this blog is for you.
The most vital organ in the human body is the Heart. It is a voluntary muscle that pumps blood to all parts of your body. Blood pumped out of your heart contains oxygen and nutrients which are required by the cells to carry out various functions of the human body. Your heartbeat (the Lub Dub) is produced by the heart when it pumps blood. Usually, pumping (pulse) is controlled by the heart’s electrical system.
Presence of coronary heart disease, intake of various medicines, presence of carcinogens in the blood, and sometimes unknown reasons cause the heart’s electrical system to dysfunction. Changes in the heart’s electrical system would mean heart beating too fast, too slow, or with an irregular rhythm. This irregularity is known as “arrhythmia.” Arrhythmias are different from palpitations, which will be dealt with later in the course of this blog.
We at, Premier Hospital, through this blog, would like to familiarize you with arrhythmias, palpitations, differences between heart palpitations and arrhythmias, and what causes the heart to beat abnormally.
Palpitations are the sensations or feelings of the heart beating fast, thumping, racing or skipping beats. Almost everyone experiences heart palpitations at some point in their lives. They are usually associated with abnormal rhythms (arrhythmias).
Palpitations may not have a clear cause but may be triggered by:
- Strenuous physical activity
- Emotional stress
- High use of caffeine and nicotine
- Too much or too little thyroid hormone
- Hormonal Changes
Sometimes, heart palpitations are harmless that don’t affect your overall health, so don’t worry. However, we advise you to immediately consult a doctor if you experience frequent or concurrent palpitations, which may be related to severe cardiac arrhythmias.
When to See a Doctor?
Having rare palpitations which last only a few seconds usually do not need to be evaluated. If you have a heart condition and are experiencing palpitations, then it is very important that you see a Cardiologist at the earliest, and we, at Premier Hospital, have a panel of highly skilled and experienced Cardiologists to evaluate your health condition. The doctor can do a heart monitoring test to determine the underlying heart condition contributing to the irregular heart rate.
See a doctor immediately if your heartbeat rate is accompanied by:
- Chest discomfort or pain
- Shortness of breath
- Severe headache
What Causes Abnormal Heartbeat?
An abnormal heartbeat is the one which has irregular heartbeats (too fast, too slow or irregular). This is also called
Causes of Arrhythmia:
The heart has its pacemaking mechanism in place. The SA (Sinoatrial) node, as depicted in the picture, fires electric impulse, which first spreads to both right and left atrium, allowing them to contract. As a result, impure blood in the right atrium is flushed into the right ventricle which is sent to the lungs for oxygen and nutrients; and the pureblood supplied from the lungs to the left atrium is flushed into the left ventricle which supplies oxygenated blood to the upper and lower extremities. This firing of the signal is continuous and is cyclical in nature. When there is interruption with the generation of electrical impulse, this could lead to Arrhythmia.
For a healthy heart, while at rest, the heartbeat must be in the range of 60 and 100 beats per minute. If the person who participates actively in exercise, then such a person has a lower heart rate. For example, Olympic athletes usually have a heart rate of at least 60 beats per minute because their physical and endurance exercises to strengthen their bodies also increases the capacity of their heart muscles to pump more blood with every beat of the heart.
Factors causing irregular heartbeat:
- Alcohol abuse
- Drug abuse
- Excessive caffeine consumption
- Congestive heart failure
- Mental stress
- Some dietary supplements
- Some herbal treatments
- Some medications
- Structural changes in the heart
Healthy people rarely suffer from long-term heart rhythm disorders unless there are external triggers such as drug abuse or electric shock. However, electrical impulses may not travel through the heart correctly if a serious problem occurs in the heart, and then there is a chance of occurrence of arrhythmias.
Your doctor may find that you suffer from arrhythmias by performing diagnostics tests. Certain signs and symptoms accompany arrhythmias, and these signs and symptoms do not always mean that you have a severe problem.
Some of the arrhythmia symptoms are:
- A fluttering in your chest
- A racing heartbeat (tachycardia)
- A slow heartbeat (bradycardia)
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath
- Lightheadedness or dizziness
- Fainting (syncope)
Types of Arrhythmias:
The most common types of arrhythmias are:
Heart beating too fast is termed as tachycardia. For example, a healthy adult’s heart beats 60 to 100 times per minute. With tachycardia, your heart could beat more than 100 beats per minute (BPM). There are three types of tachycardia:
Supraventricular Tachycardia: This type of tachycardia is observed in the upper chambers of the heart.
Ventricular Tachycardia: This type of tachycardia is observed in the lower chambers of the heart called ventricles.
Sinus Tachycardia: the heart rate is increased when you are sick and excited, and it is normal. Sinus tachycardia returns your heart to normal after improvement of your health condition.
This irregular heart rhythm occurs in the upper chamber of the heart. This is the most common arrhythmia. Atrial fibrillation or AFib occurs when highly unstable electrical impulses are not directed and can cause tremble or shake with a slight, rapid motion from the atrium. AFib causes an increase in heart rate and becomes unstable. This can increase the heart rate to 100 to 200 BPM, which is much faster than normal from 60 to 100 BPM.
Atrial flutter (AFL) usually occurs in the right atrium, which is one of the two upper chambers of the heart. However, this can also occur in the left atrium. This condition is caused by a single electrical impulse that moves quickly in the affected atrium. This often causes a rapid heartbeat, but this is a more regular rhythm.
If you have bradycardia, that means you have a slow heart rate (less than 60 BPM). Bradycardia usually occurs when an electrical signal from the atria to the ventricle is interrupted. Some athletes have a slower heart rate because they are in excellent physical condition, and this is usually not due to heart problems.
This type of abnormal rhythm can stop the heartbeat and cause cardiac arrest. This occurs in the ventricles, where blood cannot pump from the heart to the body and brain because of the irregular heartbeat. VF is a severe disease that can cause death if not treated immediately.
In most premature contractions, the heart does not seem to beat when the pulse is measured at the wrist or chest. The beat is so weak that it is not heard or felt.
When to See a Doctor
If you have a heart problem, you may feel as if your heart is beating too fast or too slow. Other signs and symptoms may include dizziness, fainting, chest pain, etc. A majority of the heart conditions are due to inefficient pumping of blood because of a fast or slow heartbeat.
Immediately get in touch with a doctor if you often experience the above signs and symptoms.
Ventricular fibrillation is a type of arrhythmia that can be fatal, as the blood pressure may drop and blood supply to your vital organs will be cut off. A person with ventricular fibrillation will collapse within seconds and will not be able to breathe or have a pulse.
Treatment for arrhythmias
Treatment for cardiac arrhythmia depends on the cause and how it affects your health and lifestyle. Remember that all arrhythmias are not life-threatening or dangerous. Sometimes the heart is very healthy, but its regular rhythm is interrupted by emotional stress or physical activity.
Treatment of cardiac arrhythmias includes:
- A pacemaker
- An implantable cardiac defibrillator
- Electrical cardioversion
- Catheter ablation
- Lifestyle changes
Heart, as we all know, is one of the vital organs in the human body. The primary function of the heart is to pump impure blood to the lungs and pure or oxygenated blood to all the parts of the body. Central to all of this is the SA Node (Sinoatrial Node), which produces electrical impulses in a cycle causing the heart to produce the heartbeat.
Any deviation from the regular beating of the heart is viewed as an abnormality which warrants medical attention. Not all irregular heartbeats are considered medical conditions, but it is necessary to consult a cardiologist who does diagnostic tests to ascertain the underlying heart condition causing irregularity in the heartbeat. Once the condition is determined, treatment shall be appropriately designed by the treating physician.
So, the key here is to monitor the heartbeat. If you encounter an irregular beating of the heart, please pick up your mobile and give us a call to consult our Cardiologists at Premier Hospital on 077020 01163.
About The Hospital:
Since the inception of Premier Hospital in 1991 till today, we have grown to unprecedented levels, due to our excellence in medical sciences and healthcare. Premier Hospital is the creation of Dr Mahesh Marda and when it was first established, was only a small, 30-bed hospital facility. Back then, we provided only secondary care to patients, but that certainly has changed in the present landscape.
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