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Palpitations Explained

By: Jo Johnson - Updated: 1 Jan 2013 | comments*Discuss
Palpitations Heart Heart Rate Adrenalin

A ‘palpitation’ is usually a term given to those who are aware of their heart rate and have a higher level of sensitivity to it's actions and can actually feel it beating in their chest. Often it is described as a pounding, hammering or fluttering and is usually accompanied by an increase in heart rate and often an irregular rhythm.

Causes of Palpitations

There are many reasons as to why a person may suffer from palpitations, some serious, some less so, some without any explanation. Overall the mechanical reason for palpitations is because of irregularities in the electrical conduct within the heart when the signals sent from the upper chambers known as the atria are not sent effectively to the lower chambers, known as the ventricles.

The most common cause is due to a harmless raise in the production of adrenalin from being scared, experiencing high levels of stress or from over exertion. This type of cause is temporary and will pass on its own without the need for any other intervention except perhaps needing a rest and by practicing some relaxation techniques that can be done long-term or specifically when the palpitations are occurring.

Unexplained palpitations, that occur for no apparent reason and become more frequent, can be due to many other medical conditions, some of which will need investigation and treatment. These illnesses include, but are not limited to, heart disease, anxiety disorders, drug abuse, as a side effect of certain medications and excessive alcohol consumption all of which can be detrimental to health and medical advice should be sought.High levels of some of the chemicals found in the blood, such as magnesium can also cause palpitations to occur.

Diagnosing Palpitations

Most people who visit their GP concerned about their palpitations will be able to describe their symptoms verbally. If the doctor is concerned, they will probably want to listen to your heart and lungs and will often order further tests such as a heart monitor for a period of time, and electrocardiogram that monitors the electrical conduct within the structures of the heart, a series of blood tests and an overall physical examination to rule out any other underlying medical conditions.

Treatment Options

The treatment required for eliminating or reducing the frequency and severity of palpitations depends entirely on the cause.Often a short period of rest and rejuvenation will be enough to calm the feeling of a racing, thumping heart, or sometimes following a stress reduction programme can prove useful.

Frequently dietary issues will need addressing as substances such as caffeine and nicotine may cause an increase in heart rate resulting in palpitations being experienced.If, however the palpitation attacks are not due to overexertion or a sudden fright, investigation must take place to rule out other conditions.

Anxiety may require the use of medications made and prescribed specifically for panic disorders, and heart disease or cardiac valve problems may need treatment using anti-arrhythmia medications such as beta-blockers. Very rarely the need for cardioversion will be suggested, meaning that a controlled ‘shock’ of electrical impulses will be passed through the heart aiming to slow it down and correct any arrhythmias.

Palpitations can be a worry for some people and cause high levels of anxiety leading to the condition becoming worse. Others experience singular isolated episodes of a racing or hammering heart and do not feel alarmed by it as it is part of everyday life.

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