Palpitations is one of the common complaints that prompt people to seek doctor’s consult and it is also one of the most difficult to diagnose. In fact, according to studies almost 16% of people who consulted their GP’s presented with palpitations and unfortunately no cause can be found in 16% of these people as well.
Palpitations is often described with one of these: regular or irregular, rapid, skipping and forceful beating of the heart. Others describe it as chest and neck pounding and like fluttering in the chest. It can last for seconds to hours in some instances.
Differential diagnosis for palpitations is very vast and it can range to benign cause to fast heart beats that can lead to life threatening and debilitating complications.
In about 43% of cases, palpitations are due heart causes like Premature atrial and ventricular contractions, Atrial fibrillation, Atrial flutter, Ventricular tachycardia, Ventricular fibrillation and heart blocks.
Most of the heart causes of palpitations are potentially dangerous and can cause fainting leading to life threatening head injury and fractures, stroke, heart failure and even death.
For example, Atrial fibrillation is associated in 15% of Strokes in Singapore and the incidence rises as a person age. Atrial fibrillation was found in 10% of people above 80 years old compared to less than 1% in those 55 years old and below.
Other causes accounts to most of the cases diagnosed. Palpitation can happen in cases of stress and other psychological problems, as a response to exercise and fever, to those with thyroid and electrolyte problems and those who take caffeine, nicotine, certain medications and illicit drugs.
Anyone with palpitations that is affecting their life should seek medical consult. And if you have palpitations with chest pain, dizziness, weakness, fainting and near fainting spells, cold sweats and/or shortness of breath you should seek emergency medical attention.
Your doctor may order blood tests and heart investigations to investigate the cause of the palpitations. An example of these are transthoracic echocardiogram, 12 Lead ECG, continuous 24 Holter monitoring, event recorder, and an implantable loop recorder.