Every organ in your body plays a vital role in keeping you feeling healthy. That’s why when an organ does something abnormal, it can cause you to worry. In matters of the heart, abnormalities can be especially stressful. But, not everything is a cause for concern — for example, a pain in your chest can simply be from acid reflux. So, if you’ve been feeling your heart flutter, how do you know if it’s something serious?
What is arrhythmia?
Heart arrhythmia occurs when the electrical impulses that coordinate your heartbeats cause your heart to beat too fast, too slow, or irregularly. This can make it feel like your heart is fluttering or racing. Sometimes, an irregular heartbeat is harmless, but arrhythmia paired with other signs and symptoms could be life-threatening.
Causes of Arrhythmia
An irregular heartbeat isn’t an automatic sign that your heart isn’t healthy. In fact, a perfectly healthy heart can also experience flutters from time to time. But, arrhythmia, when it’s life-threatening, is commonly caused by:
- Heart disease
- The wrong balance of electrolytes in your blood
- Heart injury or changes — such as reduced blood flow or stiff heart tissue
- Healing after heart surgery
- Certain medications
- Problems with the electrical signals in your heart
- Strong emotions, stress, or surprise
- Lifestyle habits including alcohol, tobacco, caffeine, or exercise
Those with arrhythmia may not always have symptoms, and even if you do, it’s not always a sure sign that your condition is life-threatening. The best way to be diagnosed and determine if treatment is needed is to schedule annual exams with your doctor. Noticeable symptoms may include:
- A fluttering in your chest
- A racing heartbeat
- A slow heartbeat
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath
- Lightheadedness or dizziness
- Fainting or near fainting
When to See a Doctor
While arrhythmia can be worrying, most of the time it subsides on its own. However, if you suddenly or frequently experience any of the signs and symptoms at a time when you wouldn’t expect to feel them, then you may consider visiting a doctor. For example, if you’ve had a relaxing day with little to no caffeine but suddenly feel anxiety and heart flutters, then you may want to address these concerns with your doctor.
There is one form of arrhythmia that can be deadly. It’s known as ventricular fibrillation and occurs when the heart beats with rapid, erratic electrical impulses. When someone experiences this type of arrhythmia, it causes the lower chambers in their heart to quiver uselessly instead of pumping blood — cutting off the blood supply to their organs. A person with ventricular fibrillation will collapse within seconds and quickly won’t be able to breathe or have a pulse. If this occurs:
- Call 911 immediately
- Begin performing CPR (or find someone who can) without rescue breaths until paramedics arrive
- Find out if an automated external defibrillator (AED) is available nearby and follow its instructions for use
Prevention & Treatment Options
In most cases, you can prevent arrhythmia by including heart-healthy lifestyle choices into your daily routine. Some examples include:
- Eating a heart-healthy diet
- Staying physically active and keeping a healthy weight
- Avoiding smoking
- Limiting or avoiding caffeine and alcohol
- Reducing stress, as intense stress and anger can cause heart rhythm problems
- Using over-the-counter medications with caution — looking out for options that impact your heart rate
Arrhythmia is typically diagnosed during a routine physical examination. Your physician will listen to your heartbeat and may notice irregularities. They’ll talk about your medical history and ask questions about how you’re feeling and whether you’ve noticed any symptoms. Once diagnosed, your treatment plan will depend on the severity of your condition, and finding the right treatment for you may take time. Common solutions include:
- Taking medications
- Practicing vagal maneuvers — such as coughing or lying down
- Experiencing electrical cardioversion
- Using a pacemaker
- Inserting an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD)
- Getting a catheter ablation
- Correcting the atrial fibrillation with heart surgery
If You Need an Annual Exam, Nurse Practitioners of Florida Can Help
At Nurse Practitioners of Florida, we have a dedicated team of certified nurse practitioners who have an unwavering commitment to providing you with care and compassion. When you call any of our locations, you will be greeted by a live person who’s ready to offer acute medical care as well as aesthetic procedures. And, above everything else, you will be treated like family.
If you need assistance, call us or fill out our online contact form.