Heartbeats are not felt under normal conditions, but when we feel them, we call them palpitations. We have the tendency to panic when we experience them because we are not familiar with the causes of heart palpitations since, for obvious reasons, we associate them with heart disease.
However, there is no need to be alarmed because palpitations are not necessarily a symptom of our heart throwing in the towel.
Normally, the heartbeats between 60 and 100 times per minute. An abnormally rapid heartbeat, over 100 per minute, is known as tachycardia. A slow heart rate, less than 60 heartbeats per minute is known as bradycardia.
People who exercise regularly and those who take medication to lower their heart rhythm can experiment bradycardia. A slow heart rate is sometimes normal and can be a sign of being very fit. In fact, healthy young adults and athletes often have heart rates of less than 60 beats a minute.
What causes palpitations?
Palpitations, an unpleasant perception of strong or fast heartbeats, can be induced by a variety of reasons that involve alterations in the rhythm of the heart. Palpitations are a common cause of doctor or emergency room visits but most of the times, the cause of those palpitations is intense emotional situations the patient has gone through.
During emotional situations, our body secretes a substance called adrenaline that causes our heart to work at a stronger and faster pace. Good examples will be what a student feels before finals, or what a couple feels when they share their first kiss. These kinds of situations reflect anxiety and their characteristic is that the heart works faster than it does when it is at rest. A situation of anguish can also alter the rhythm of heartbeats.
Most frequent causes of palpitations
- Anxiety or fear
- Too much coffee, tea or carbonated drinks
- Diet pills
- Nose decongestants
- Inhalers for asthma
- Anti-depressive medication.
- Certain illnesses such as anaemia,
- Certain heart diseases (arrhythmia)
- Thyroid problems
- Lack of B vitamins
- Low levels of blood sugar
- Diabetes out of control.
The occurrence of a tachycardia under any of these circumstances does not necessarily imply underlying heart disease.
A reliable diagnosis can be obtained when the electrocardiogram is done at the time the palpitations are taking place. This is not always possible since a patient usually sees the doctor hours or maybe days after the occurrence.
However, the doctor, through a questionnaire and a physical exam, may arrive to a reliable diagnosis in most patients. In some instances, the doctor may feel an echo-cardiography, monitoring the heart for 24 hours, or a test of resistance is needed.
How are palpitations treated?
Treatment is based on the cause of palpitations. In most cases, there is no need for any treatment because the heart works normally.
Most important recommendations in these cases consist of:
- Do not smoke
- Avoid alcohol, coffee, tea, and coke type drinks
- Follow a Mediterranean diet
- Avoid large meals
- Moderate exercise
- Check regularly your blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar
- Above all, avoid stress.
If palpitations are frequent, especially if you feel chest pain, breathing difficulty, dizziness, or you have already been diagnosed with heart disease, check with your specialist, since the palpitations could be the symptom of something else that may require specific treatment such as arrhythmia.