Disclaimer: The brief patient information supplied here and the outside links provided are not intended to replace the advice of your physician and are only meant to help guide patients to formulate questions during their physician appointments. Each patient's situation is unique and a large number of factors are considered when arriving at a management plan for your specific condition.
Virtually everyone describes being aware of their heart beat from time to time, but some people become more aware of their heart beat at certain times in their lives such as during stressful times. The best way to determine the cause of one's palpitations is to obtain an ECG tracing during the symptoms. Portable electronic devices now make it much easier to obtain an ECG even outside of hospital settings. One FDA device which can be helpful for evaluating the cause of palpitations is the KardiaMobile ECG monitor, which is used alongside a smartphone /tablet app and can record a 30 second ECG by applying fingers on the metal pads of the portable device and opening the app. Determining the heart rhythm cause of palpitations is especially important when the palpitations are reported as a sudden racing of the heart which starts (and stops) quickly and without warning. When patients describe their palpitations as brief pauses or "skipping" of their heart, accompanied by more forceful heartbeats, benign extra beats from the upper or lower chambers of the heart (called "atrial" or "ventricular" ectopy) are usually the cause.
When palpitations are associated with a racing heart beat or lightheadedness and when they cause significant distress, an ECG tracing can be obtained with a holter monitor (long-term ECG monitor for 24 or 48 hours) or event monitor (portable, patient-activated ECG recorder which can be used for 2-4 weeks at a time).
Certain causes of palpitations (especially those which cause a racing heart beat) can be treated with medications or ablation (a procedure directed at eliminating extra connections in the electrical system of the heart via a long catheter inserted in a vein of the right thigh).
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