Heart Palpitations: A Warning Sign For Your Body

28 September 2021

Palpitation is discomfort caused by irregular heartbeat and is sometimes accompanied by dizziness and breathlessness. Palpitations are commonly known as arrhythmia, a problem with the heart rhythm, and can be a symptom of other major diseases.

Dr How Ann Kee, Consultant Cardiologist and Electrophysiologist at Sunway Medical Centre, pointed that palpitations are when you can feel your heart pounding.

“Some experience symptoms such as chest tightness, chest pain, cold sweat and low blood pressure, and these symptoms can interfere with daily life.

“Palpitations occur due to cardiac and non-cardiac related causes. Non-cardiac causes include strenuous physical activity, psychological factors such as stress and anxiety, and dietary factors such as caffeine. These factors are mild, short-lived and rare, and individuals go back to normal after resting.

“Cardiac causes include arrhythmia or tachycardia. If palpitations persist and if other discomforts such as constant sweating, shortness of breath, dizziness, chest pain, and pain in the arms, neck or upper back that interferes with daily life are present, it is important to seek medical attention as this could be warning signs of an underlying heart problem,” she said.

How are palpitations diagnosed?

There is a complex system of electrical conduction in the layers of the human heart, and abnormalities in conduction can cause irregularities in the heart rhythm, resulting in conditions such as palpitations, chest tightness, breathlessness and fainting. When a doctor suspects that palpitations are caused by arrhythmia or other cardiovascular disease, she may recommend the patient to undergo the following tests:

  • Electrocardiogram (ECG): This test detects and records the electrical activity of the heart, assessing they rhythm and frequency of the heartbeat, and helping to determine if there are any heart problems including irregular heartbeats or coronary artery disease.
  • Holter monitor (24-hour ECG monitoring): Holter monitoring is the process of obtaining a 24-hour ECG to detect arrhythmias and other intermittent symptoms due to heart disease through a non-invasive ECG device to monitor the patient’s heart activity throughout his daily life.
  • Electrophysiology study (EPS): EPS is the most accurate way to diagnose arrhythmias. It is an invasive test in which a catheter is inserted into the heart chambers using cardiac catheterisation techniques to record changes in the ECG and the rhythm conduction within the heart, thereby diagnosing the rhythm point causing the arrhythmia.

According to Dr How, the field of cardiac electrophysiology is to assess the electrical system of the heart, cardiac activity and treat arrhythmias. Arrhythmia can be treated through pharmacological treatment and non-pharmacological treatment such as catheter ablation. Catheter ablation is also performed during electrophysiological examinations to treat arrhythmias, if necessary.

“In some cases of palpitations or arrhythmias, medication may reduce the number of episodes, but it will not cure them completely. Catheter ablation is another viable option for a cure,” Dr How said.

She noted that catheter ablation is a type of cardiac radiofrequency ablation in which energy is released through a catheter to block abnormal electrical conduction, eliminating abnormal electrical impulses in the heart and hence allowing the heart to beat in the correct sequence.

“In addition to using heat as radiofrequency energy (RF energy) to disrupt abnormal electrical currents, catheter ablation can also be performed by cryoablation (cryoenergy),” she added.

There are also other devices that can be used without medical training such as portable ECG testing device and wearable devices such as smart watches and wristband fitness trackers to help people understand their heart condition.

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle

The heart is a pumping “engine” that carries blood to the lungs for gas exchange and “pumps” oxygen-filled blood to all organs of the body to sustain life. It is also a rhythmic “precision instrument”, with a precisely coordinated “circuit system” to initiate and maintain the normal, rhythmic beating of the heart; making a normal heart rhythm particularly important for heart health.

Dr How revealed that younger patients are experiencing arrhythmias today, possibly due to medical advances that allow for early detection and early detection of the cause.

“There are many causes and triggers of arrhythmia, including coronary artery disease, previous heart surgery, heart failure, hypertension, congenital heart disease, diabetes, substance abuse, obstructive sleep apnoea, electrolyte imbalance, excessive coffee drinking and alcohol abuse,” she said.

The best things to do to avoid heart problems such as arrhythmia are to eat a balanced diet, exercise regularly, maintain a healthy weight, maintain a healthy lifestyle and drink alcohol and coffee in moderation.

If you experience heart problems such as persistent palpitations with other uncomfortable symptoms, you should undergo regular check-ups, follow your doctor's treatment and improve your lifestyle habits to address the risk factors in your life.

Source: Sin Chew