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Change in Heartbeat

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Definition

A change in the heart beat may be due to heart beating either too rapidly (tachycardia) or too slowly (bradycardia) or skipping a beat or an extra beat (extra systole) with an irregular rhythm (arrhythmia). This can be sensed as either an extra-strong heartbeat (palpitation) or a a feeling of fluttering in your chest (atrial fibrillation/flutter).

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Causes

  • Heavy smoking, excessive use of alcohol or caffeine
  • Drug abuse
  • Stimulants, such as diet pills or cough and cold medications.
  • Dietary supplements, such as goldenseal, oleander, ma huang, motherwort, or ephedra
  • Stress and anxiety
  • Pain
  • Fever.
  • Hard physical exercise.
  • Pregnancy
  • Well-trained athletes usually have slow heart rates with occasional pauses in the normal rhythm.
  • Atrial fibrillation
  • Past history of heart disease, heart failure, or a history of heart attack should be more concerned with any changes in their usual heart rhythm or rate.

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Implications

Felling of changes in the heart beat may be severe or frequent. This may be accompanied by other symptoms such as chest pain, shortness of breath, lightheadedness, confusion, weakness, or fainting. When fainting occurs because of an irregular heart rhythm, it is called a cardiac syncope. This can be a sign of a serious heart problem. Abuse of illegal drugs or misuse of prescription and non-prescription medications can cause serious heart rhythm or rate changes and may be life-threatening.

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What You Can Do

  • When you sense your heart pounding, or beating in a rapid or irregular manner, immediately sit down

  • Record your pulse for one minute.

  • If you feel dizzy or faint, sit or lie down to avoid injuries that might occur if you fall.

  • Take a few deep breaths, close your eyes and try to relax.

  • Take a glass of cold water and sip it slowly.

  • Treat fever and other symptoms of an illness to decrease heart rate.

  • Cut back or eliminate caffeine (including coffee, tea, colas, and chocolate). Some non-prescription medications (such as Excedrin) contain caffeine.

  • If stress affects your heart rhythm or rate, try relaxation exercises and deep breathing techniques. A healthy exercise program can help reduce stress.

  • Cut back or eliminate alcohol and tobacco.

  • Keep a record of the date and time that you noticed the change; also keep a record of associated changes.

  • List what you did that helped your heart rate or rhythm to return to normal, such as lying down, deep breathing, or coughing, or did your heart rate or rhythm return to normal on its own.

  • Prevention
    • Prevent getting too tired by getting plenty of sleep and rest.
    • Eliminate caffeinated beverages.
    • Limit the use of alcohol.
    • Quit smoking or using tobacco in any other form.
    • Discontinue using medications such as cough and cold remedies, nose drops, or allergy relief medications that contain pseudoephedrine, epinephrine, or ephedrine.

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Change in Heartbeat