Heart palpitations: what makes your heart skip a beat?

By: Osler Health International
Posted on: 30 Aug 2023

Heart palpitations: signs and treatments | Osler Health

A quiet evening, a suspenseful movie scene, or an unexpected message from someone special might cause a momentary flutter in your chest. But love and surprise aren’t the only culprits behind that peculiar feeling of your heart skipping a beat. Heart palpitations, as they’re medically known, can be unsettling and sometimes leave you momentarily breathless.

While many people may dismiss them as a fleeting discomfort, these erratic heart rhythms occur for various reasons, from the benign to the more concerning. But how do we know when to worry about our condition and seek advice from a general practitioner (GP) in Singapore? It starts with learning to discern the fleeting thuds from the more severe thumps.

Types of heart palpitations

The symphony of beats our heart plays has a certain regularity to it, and any deviation from this rhythm is considered a palpitation. While many deviations are harmless, manifesting as mere blips in an otherwise steady rhythm, others can be more concerning. These anomalies are typically categorised based on their rhythm and rate: a hastened beat (tachycardia), a slowed tempo (bradycardia) and an irregular pattern.

1. Tachycardia 

Tachycardia is characterised by a heart racing at above 100 beats per minute. While the rapidity might sound alarming, not all tachycardias are a cause for concern. Its severity largely depends on where the issue originates in the heart. 

The heart’s upper chambers might sometimes be the culprits, leading to what’s termed as supraventricular tachycardia. Common forms of this type, like atrial flutter and atrial fibrillation, are generally not life-threatening. However, they can be unsettling for those experiencing them, especially when the fluttering is accompanied by an atrial fibrillation ECG.

Then there’s the more daunting variant: ventricular tachycardia, originating in the heart’s lower chambers. When these ventricles beat too briskly, it poses a significant danger. The stakes are even higher when ventricular tachycardia escalates to the point where the heart can’t pump blood efficiently. This dire situation, termed ventricular fibrillation, sees the heart’s electrical signals go haywire, causing erratic beats. If not addressed promptly, it can lead to devastating outcomes like plummeting blood pressure, loss of consciousness, and in severe cases, death.

2. Bradycardia

On the other end of the spectrum, a leisurely heartbeat might evoke a sense of calm. However, it’s not always a benign sign, especially when your heart is clocking in at less than 60 beats per minute, which is a sign of bradycardia. This is because the languid pace may result in a failure to pump an adequate blood supply to meet the body’s demands.

However, context is key. Certain individuals, such as athletes and those in peak physical condition, often naturally have slower heart rates without health complications. Nonetheless, several heart disorders can trigger bradycardia. One such condition is the ‘sick sinus syndrome,’ where the heart’s natural pacemaker, the sinus node, falters, resulting in either an excessively slow or fast heartbeat. In some instances, it even causes alternating slow and speedy rhythms.

Heart block’ refers to a delay or disruption in the electrical signals transitioning from the heart’s upper chambers (atria) to its lower ones (ventricles). This disturbance often stems from damage to the heart’s electrical pathways. This condition can be further categorised into atrioventricular heart block and the bundle branch block, with the latter encompassing issues like the left and right bundle branch block.

3. Other types of abnormal heart rhythms

Apart from fast and slow heartbeats, a bit of irregularity might also creep in, and this is when you may be experiencing one of the following conditions:

  • Ectopic heartbeats: These are moments when the heart either misses its cue or decides to throw in an extra beat. Originating from the atria or ventricles, they represent one of the more subtle heart palpitations.
  • Long QT syndrome, Brugada syndrome, and Wolff-Parkinson-White (WPW) syndrome: They denote specific abnormalities in the heart’s electrical dynamics. Their effects can range from causing heart palpitations that are swift and irregular to serious complications like fainting spells or, in extreme cases, cardiac arrest.
  • Paroxysmal arrhythmias: These episodes begin and end abruptly, without any forewarning and can last for mere seconds or stretch out to a week.

What does severe heart palpitation feel like?

If you find yourself sensing an unusually rapid, sluggish, or erratic heartbeat, here are some distinguishing hallmarks of an abnormal heart rhythm to cross-check against your symptoms:

  • Palpitations: This encompasses feelings of racing, pounding, fluttering, or even the odd sensation of the heart skipping beats.
  • Light-headedness or dizziness: A sudden wave of unsteadiness might be linked to heart irregularities.
  • Breathless: An unexpected difficulty in catching your breath, even when you’re at rest.
  • Sweating: Breaking into cold sweats without any apparent reason.
  • Fainting: Episodes of passing out can be directly correlated with heart issues.
  • Anxiety: Unexplained bouts of anxiety can sometimes be a byproduct of heart disturbances.
  • Chest Pain: A sharp or lingering ache in the chest area when breathing.
  • Fatigue: A pervasive sense of tiredness or weariness.

Take the pulse of your heart health with Osler Health

Understanding the intricacies of heart palpitations is just the beginning. Knowledge is the first step, but acting is pivotal. A fleeting flutter or an occasional thump might seem inconsequential, but it could be an early signpost on the road to more severe health conditions. 

Adopting a “better safe than sorry” approach is wise. If any of the symptoms discussed resonate with your experiences, consider it a prompt to schedule a health screening or to seek medical advice from a trained GP in Singapore. This is where Osler Health steps in.

Our team of international doctors have years of practice in offering bespoke treatments. Whether it’s a simple men’s physical checkup and women’s health screening or an in-depth consultation, you can be assured that you are in capable hands when under the charge of our doctors.

So, don’t wait for a nudge from your heart. Schedule an appointment with our clinic today, and let us help you navigate the nuances of your heart health for peace of mind and optimal well-being.

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