An unusual heart rhythm, often entirely harmless. A feeling that your heart is thumping at high speed or a sense of fluttering in your chest or a hammering in your head are all descriptions of palpitations.
They don’t always denote anything serious – folks who are stressed and nervous often feel palpitations as a symptom of their stress – there’s nothing wrong with their hearts. You can occasionally feel your heart beating after a substantial meal, when you lie down to go to sleep or after the attempt of running tough.
These palpitations settle down fairly rapidly. Those due to an overactive thyroid gland seldom do and that’s an important difference. Alcohol and cocaine are both common reasons for palpitations. Palpitations in someone over 60 years old can be a symptom of a heart condition and should be reported to a physician for treatment and investigation.
Palpitations that originate from the atria, the upper chambers of the heart, and are routine
can be uncomfortable but are scarcely ever dangerous, while you might feel dizzy and even light-headed.
Rapid unpredictable beats are named fibrillation and, although not immediately dangerous if in the atria, they can be disagreeable and must be investigated and treated quickly. Atrial
fibrillation is the most common cause of unpredictable palpitations.
The heartbeat, regularly thanks to a remarkable electrical system that sends the signal to beat along nerves hat form electrical pathways from a ‘pacemaker centre to the rest of the heart. This system ensures that the muscle of the heart beats in an orderly and efficient way; problems with it, however, arc extremely common. Everyone at some time experiences harmless, innocent variations of rate and rhythm.
There are innumerable causes of unusual heart rhythms, including stress, caffeine, alcohol and inhalers for asthma. The diagnosis is often difficult to confirm. Modern devices can record all heartbeats for 24 hours, which can then be computer-analysed in search of abnormalities.
A heart rate above 100 beats per minute causes palpitations and is abnormal. Likely causes arc atrial fibrillation, where the rate is rapid and irregular, or thyrotoxicosis. It is common to have bursts of rapid heartbeats between perfectly normal rates. This may occur in fit young people with no underlying heart abnormality but may also be a feature of underlying heart disease such as atherosclerosis.
If the heart misses a beat, as it often does, the catch-up beat is unusually hard and will be fell as a thump in the chest. Another common cause is heart block. In this condition there is interference with the electrical flow, so that the heart beats at its own natural rhythm which can be as low as 20 beats per minute. Slow rates can be due to a severely underactive thyroid gland (see Thyroid problems).
Palpitations are common so take note only if they are a nuisance or accompany breathlessness, chest pain or tiredness, which suggests they are putting a strain on the heart.
Many cases prove wholly free from disease and need no treatment other than reassuring the patient the heart is basically healthy. Such cases arc helped by reducing heart stimulants such as coffee, alcohol, smoking or certain medications.
Several drugs can control these rhythms; the best known is digoxin – most commonly used to treat atrial fibrillation, a rapid and chaotic beating of the heart. Other drugs include amiodarone and verapamil. In atrial fibrillation, specialists increasingly recommend taking anticoagulants to reduce the risk of a stroke. Beta-blockers are used to slow the heart and also have a mild antianxiety effect. The treatment for fast rates unresponsive to drugs is to shock the heart into a normal rhythm.
Heart block is treated with a pacemaker. This fires a regular electrical signal so that the heart beats steadily.
Chakra balancing – the therapist can help by working over the whole heart. Nutritional therapy – deficiencies may be to blame, especially deficiency of B vitamins or magnesium. Healing can bring an irregular heartbeat into balance. Hypnotherapy calms and lowers heartbeat, and stabilizes palpitations.
Ayurvedic yoga and oil massages would be recommended, possibly with panchakarma detoxification as well.
Other therapies to try: tai chi/chi kung; acupuncture; autogenic training; cymatics; auricular therapy; homeopathy.