If you have an abnormal heart rhythm, you
might receive an EKG to read your heart.
Changes in heart rate are everyday occurrences for most people. Whether we are exercising, climbing stairs, watching a scary movie or being overwhelmed with emotion, we often feel like our hearts are pounding, fluttering or maybe even skipping a beat.
These are very normal occurrences. But what does a cardiac arrhythmia feel like? And when should we be concerned?
The symptoms of an arrhythmia vary, so it can be difficult to tell the difference between something normal or minor, and something potentially life-threatening. Knowing the tell-tale signs of a heart rhythm disturbance, acting quickly and seeking out the right doctor can help you feel better - and might even save your life.
Dr. Kamran Aslam, an electrophysiologist at Swedish Covenant Hospital, specializes in diagnosing and treating irregular heartbeats. As an electrophysiologist, it is his job to study the electrical properties of the heart (which make it beat).
"A problem with the heart rhythm is not something you can see on a person's face, and you can't see it on an X-ray," he said. "Anyone can have heart rhythm disturbances; you can be born with them or you can acquire them as you get older."
He further explained that diagnosing arrhythmias and other conditions, including atrial fibrillation (a condition where the heart beats between 300 and 400 beats per minute) and ventricular tachycardia (irregular beats of the ventricles), may initially require non-invasive, then perhaps minimally invasive, electrophysiologic (EP) testing.
However, identifying that something is wrong often starts with the patient.
To help patients recognize tough-to-pinpoint heart rhythm conditions, Dr. Aslam recommends contacting your primary care physician, cardiologist, or an electrophysiologist if you experience any of the following symptoms:
1. Palpitations when at rest
A palpitation is the actual feeling that your heart is going too fast, too slow or beating abnormally. If you sense this at times when your body is at rest (not during a workout), and it lasts for more than 1 minute, it is time to contact a physician to determine its cause. Common symptoms are shortness of breath, feeling like your heart is "pounding out of your chest" and chest pain associated with the palpitations.
2. Palpitations and feeling like you are going to pass out
If you are experiencing palpitations in any situation that gives you the feeling that you are going to pass out, you feel dizzy or nauseous, that could indicate that blood is not properly pumping through your heart. This feeling may come when you are inactive or active.
3. Palpitations with chest pain, dizziness and shortness of breath
Particularly if you have a history of heart failure or other conditions like high blood pressure or diabetes, you are at risk for arrhythmias. So palpitations, accompanied by chest pain, dizziness and shortness of breath, should set off red flags. Call 9-1-1 immediately in this case. If your physicians find that these symptoms can be traced back to your heart rhythm, an electrophysiologist may be able to use specialized testing and procedures to diagnose and treat this condition.
Dr. Aslam's recommendations are in line with The American Heart Association's guidelines, which encourage all people to know the symptoms of arrhythmia and seek out a physician to diagnose the problem, as well as rule out other conditions like heart disease.
To make an appointment with Dr. Aslam of Swedish Covenant Hospital, call (773)989-3804, or visit SwedishCovenant.org/medical-services/cardiology-heart-services.