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Definition of Heart Palpitations

The abnormally strong beating sensation of your heart is called a heart palpitation.  This sensation is often felt in the chest but they can also be felt in the neck and the throat on certain occasions.  You may become aware of heart palpitations when you feel that your heart beats in an unpleasant manner and when you sense that your heart is skipping beats or even has stopped beating for a while.

If you experience palpitations the rhythm of your heart may either be normal or not.

An average adult human heart beats around 60 to 100 beats each minute. The heart can slow down when people take certain medicines. Individuals who regularly exercise have a slower than normal heartbeat.

A person with a heart beating over 100 beats per minute has tachycardia while a person with a heart beating slower than normal (lower than 60 or 55 beats per minute) has bradycardia. There are individuals who experience an occasional extra heartbeat. This extra heartbeat is termed as extrasystole.

In most occasions, palpitations are not serious health conditions. However, if your palpitations signify an irregular heart rhythm (also called as arrhythmia), they may need to be observed by a physician.  If you have the following conditions, chances are you have an abnormal heart rhythm:

You have a defective heart valve
You an abnormal electrolyte level in your blood
You have factors that increases your risk for heart disease
You already are suffering from a certain type of heart disease before the onset of your palpitations

Types of Heart Arrhythmia

Premature atrial contractions – Premature atrial contractions are early extra beats emanating from the heart’s upper chambers or atria. Premature atrial contractions that do not pose a danger to a person’s health.

Premature ventricular contractions or PVCs – PVCs are the most experienced type of arrhythmias in people who may or may not be suffering from heart disease.  A PVC is what is typically known as a skipped heartbeat and often is experienced by people who indulge in too much exercise, those who smoke cigarettes a lot, take in a lot of caffeine or those who are in a lot of stress. Sometimes, however, PVCs can come about due to poor electrolyte balance or a heart condition. Individuals who show symptoms related to PVCs or who experiences frequent PVCs, needs to be seen by a heart doctor. But in general, PVCs are not dangerous and seldom require any type of treatment.

Atrial fibrillation – Atrial fibrillation is an abnormal heart rhythm is also a typical form of arrhythmia that causes the atria to contract incorrectly.

Atrial flutter – An atrial flutter is due to one or more rapid sending of electrical impulses in the atrium. This condition happens usually in people suffering from heart disease and during the first week of heart surgery. Atrial flutter usually turns to atrial fibrillation.

Accessory pathway tachycardias – This is due to an extra abnormal connection or pathway between the ventricles or atrium. Neural signals travel through the extra pathways and through the usual route as well causing the signal to travel around the heart very quickly thus making the heart beat abnormally fast.

Paroxysmal supraventricular tachycardia or PSVT – This type of arrhythmia shows a fast heart rate with usually a regular rhythm emanating from on top the ventricles. PSVT begins and ends suddenly. There are two main kinds of PSVT: AV nodal reentrant tachycardia and accessory path tachycardia.
AV nodal reentrant tachycardia – This is a type of tachycardia that emanates from more than one electrical circuit via the AV node causing a fast heart rate. It can lead to heart failure, fainting or heart palpitations. AV nodal reentrant tachycardia can often be stopped by a technique called breathe in and bear down and other type technique done by a trained medical professional. There are drugs for this type of tachycardia as well.

Ventricular tachycardia or V-tach – This fast heart rate prevents the heart from filling adequately with blood causing less blood to travel throughout the body. A V-tach can be a serious condition particularly for individuals with preexisting heart disease and can also be related with other symptoms. This type of tachycardia should be examined by a heart doctor or cardiologist.

Ventricular fibrillation – Ventricular fibrillation is caused by a disorganized, abnormal firing of electrical signals from the ventricles and causes ventricular dysfunction like quivering of the ventricles and the inability of the ventricles to pump blood to the body. A ventricular fibrillation is a dangerous condition requiring medical emergency treatment using defibrillation and CPR or cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) as fast as possible.

Long QT syndrome – The QT interval can be seen in an electrocardiogram and it represents the period for the electrical impulse to fire impulses and then recharge or the period that takes the heart muscle to contract and then recover. A longer-than-average QT interval is a sign that the patient is at high risk for “torsade de pointes.”  A “torsade de pointes” is ventricular tachycardia of a deadly kind. Long QT syndrome is an inherited disorder that may lead to death in young individuals. Available treatments for it include ablation therapy, implanted defibrillator/cardioverter, defibrillation, electrical cardioversion, pacemaker or antiarrhythmic drugs.

Bradyarrhythmias – Bradyarrhythmias are characterized by slow heart rhythms that can develop due to problems in the heart’s electrical conduction system. Heart block and sinus node dysfunction are examples of bradyarrhythmias.

Sinus node dysfunction – This is a type of bradycardia (slow heart rhythm) caused by a faulty SA (sinus) node. Treatment for major sinus node anomalies is the installation of a pacemaker.
Heart block – A complete stopping or delay of the electrical impulse as it passes from the sinus node to the ventricles is termed as a heart block. Heart block causes the heart to beat more slowly or irregularly. The patient may require a pacemaker if he is suffering from a severe type of heart block.

Danielle DeVivo is a licensed acupuncturist and the founder of Phoenix Rising Acupuncture & Herbal Clinic in Saratoga Springs, NY.

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