In many cases there are no outward symptoms of arrhythmia, because the activity is too subtle to be felt. Yet there are some symptoms that may indicate arrhythmia. It's important to note that in most cases, arrhythmia is harmless, but in many cases—especially if you have heart disease or other heart problems—you should consult your doctor. Here are some of the more common symptoms of arrhythmia:
- A faster-than-normal (racing) heartbeat
- A slower-than-normal heartbeat
- A feeling of fluttering in your chest
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Fainting (also called syncope) or being on the verge of fainting (symptoms include lightheadedness, nausea, blurry vision, difficulty in hearing)
- Chest pain
Children with heart abnormalities may also experience arrhythmia. If they aren't old enough to describe their symptoms, signs of a problem may include fussiness (persistent crying with no apparent cause), feeding difficulties or loss of consciousness.
When to see a doctor
It's important to keep in mind that the risk of serious, even life-threatening arrhythmias is highest in people who already have coronary artery disease, heart failure, or other heart-structure abnormalities. Some specific symptoms can give you a clue as to when palpitations require evaluation.
Make an appointment with your doctor if:
- Symptoms interfere with daily activities or wake you from sleep
- Palpitations increased in severity or frequency
- You have a heart disease risk factor such as high cholesterol, diabetes, high blood pressure, or a family history of heart disease
To learn more about your symptoms, your doctor may ask when your palpitations first started, how long each episode lasts, how frequently you have episodes, how an episode starts and stops (suddenly or gradually), and whether the palpitations are associated with other signs and symptoms such as shortness of breath, anxiety, panic reactions, dizziness, or fainting. It's also helpful if you can tap out the beat of your heart rhythm.
You should seek immediate emergency medical care if:
- You have a very rapid heartbeat (more than 140 to 160 beats per minute) that lasts more than 20 to 30 seconds.
- Heart palpitations are accompanied by shortness of breath or chest discomfort, or you have unusual sweating, dizziness, lightheadedness, or fainting associated with the palpitations.
Last reviewed on 2/10/2009
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