“Heart flutters, also called palpitations, can be an alarming sensation,” said Michael R. Weber, MD, Catholic Health Physician Partners cardiac electrophysiologist. “Although their cause is often benign, they should be evaluated by an expert.”
Dr. Weber noted that most initial tests that cardiac electrophysiologists (a cardiologist specializing in heart rhythms) perform are non-invasive and consist of wearing a heart monitor for several days to help understand the cause.
“Once we do, most symptoms often go away with lifestyle modifications,” he said. “But, if there is something more serious underlying the symptoms, I will explain various options to the patient to decide the best treatment option together.”
Contact your doctor immediately if you experience any of the following in addition to your heart flutter:
- Chest pain or discomfort
- Extreme shortness of breath
- Fainting or dizziness
Heart flutters may signal a more serious heart condition like atrial fibrillation (AFib) that can worsen if not correctly diagnosed and managed.
What does a heart flutter feel like?
Heart flutters feel different for different people. You may describe your heart flutter as one of the following:
- Flip-flopping of your heartbeat
- Heart pounding
- Quick, racing heartbeat
- Rapid, erratic beating of your heart
- Skipping beats of your heart
What causes a heart flutter?
Heart flutters can have numerous underlying causes. Your doctor will work closely with you to find a diagnosis, but the cause may sometimes be undetermined/unknown. If so, that may indicate one of the following:
- Extreme exercise
- Hormone changes due to pregnancy, menstruation or menopause
- Panic attack
- Stimulants, including:
- Cough or cold medicines that contain pseudoephedrine
- Stress or anxiety
- Too much or too little of the thyroid hormone
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What are the risk factors for a heart flutter?
You are more likely to experience heart flutters if you have one or more of the following risk factors:
- Anxiety disorder
- Arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat)
- High levels of stress
- Hyperthyroidism (overactivity of the hormone-producing thyroid gland)
- Panic attacks
- Prior heart attack
- Prior heart surgery
- Structural changes in your heart
- Taking certain medicines, such as asthma or cold medications
Does a heart flutter mean I have atrial fibrillation (AFib)?
Heart palpitations are often mistaken for atrial fibrillation (AFib), a more serious condition that occurs when your heart beats too quickly, too slowly or irregularly (also called arrhythmia). Palpitations are, in fact, one of the symptoms of AFib.
But don’t self-diagnose! Make an appointment with your doctor who will order tests for an accurate diagnosis.
What are the types of tests I may need?
Your doctor may recommend the following to determine if you have a heart palpitation or an underlying cardiac condition like AFib.
- A comprehensive blood test.
- An electrocardiogram (EKG) to measure your heart's electrical signals and detect atypical heart rhythms.
- A Holter monitor to wear on your chest to record your heart's electrical signals for 24 to 48 hours. This monitor helps with recording rhythm abnormalities not detected during an EKG.
How can I reduce my heart flutter?
You may be able to reduce or eliminate your heart flutter if tests do not indicate an underlying cardiac issue. Your doctor will provide a recommended course of treatment that may include:
- Avoiding stimulants, such as caffeine, nicotine and certain medications
- Avoiding illegal drugs
- Reducing stress
Why does my heart flutter seem to occur more often at night?
A heart flutter can occur anytime, day or night. But you may notice them more at night when lying down or sitting still. A heart flutter may occur as often during the day, but you may not notice because you’re distracted and busy with your daily activities.
Is a smartwatch with an EKG helpful to manage my heart flutter?
A smartwatch with a built-in electrocardiogram (EKG) collects data about your heartbeat, including its rhythm and sudden changes. It’s often used to help detect AFib.
A smartwatch with an EKG is not a substitute for regular visits to your doctor or following their recommended treatment plan. It also cannot detect a heart attack. Call 9-1-1 immediately if you are showing signs of a heart attack.
Find care at St. Francis Heart Center
At St. Francis Heart Center locations across Long Island, we offer the highest level of cardiac care to help diagnose and treat patients with heart disease. Our electrophysiologists are nationally recognized experts specializing in advanced diagnostics and treatment for AFib and other heart arrhythmias.
- St. Francis Hospital & Heart Center® (Roslyn, NY)
- St. Francis Heart Center at Good Samaritan University Hospital (West Islip, NY)
- St. Francis Heart Center at Mercy Hospital (Rockville Centre, NY)
- St. Francis Heart Center at St. Catherine of Siena Hospital (Smithtown, NY)
- St. Francis Heart Center at St. Joseph Hospital (Bethpage, NY)
Call 866-MY-LI-DOC (866-695-4362) to find a Catholic Health physician near you.
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