Heart

What if your heart skips a beat?

New Patient Appointment or 214-645-8300

heart-beat-image
Everyone’s heart races or feels like it “skips a beat” sometimes. The sensation is called having palpitations. Some people have them daily, others experience them rarely, but everyone has them—and, for the most part, they’re harmless.

Any number of things can trigger palpitations. A short list of causes includes:
  • Too much caffeine
  • Too much alcohol
  • Nicotine
  • Stress or anxiety
  • Exercise
  • Pregnancy
  • Dehydration
Even too much chocolate can cause your heart to skip a beat. The thing to know is that what may feel like a cardiac arrhythmia—a heart rhythm disorder—may not be and often is not. And even when it is a heart rhythm disorder, most aren’t dangerous. In the absence of any other heart disease, only a small percentage of disorders are life threatening.

That said, if, in addition to feeling your heart skip a beat, you’re also experiencing symptoms such as chest pain, lightheadedness or dizziness, shortness of breath, or fainting, you should seek medical attention.

Treating Arrhythmias

Most cardiac arrhythmias can now be successfully treated with medication or with minimally invasive, catheter-based procedures called catheter ablation, many of which cure certain arrhythmias.

For those who have previously had a heart attack or otherwise damaged their heart to the extent that the heart’s electrical activity is disrupted, the answer may be to install a pacemaker to help regulate the heartbeat.

Atrial Fibrillation

Atrial fibrillation (AF) is the most common type of arrhythmia. AF is a serious condition that increases the risk for stroke. AF is due to abnormal, irregular electrical activity in the top chambers of the heart, called the atria. Symptoms include having palpitations, shortness of breath, rapid heart rates, fatigue/lack of energy, and swelling in the legs.

AF is largely a heart rhythm disorder of older patients, and as people live longer, it’s likely to become more prevalent. Fortunately, advances in cardiac monitoring are enabling us to better diagnose AF and other cardiac arrhythmias, and AF treatment has progressed a lot in the last decade. At UT Southwestern, we perform many catheter ablations for atrial fibrillation and other arrhythmias. However, ablations are not the only option, and we believe it is critical that patients understand all of the options and the risks and benefits of each one. Each patient is invited to participate in and understand the treatment decisions in his or her unique situation. Together we create a comprehensive treatment plan tailored to each patient in order to have the best possible chance at a successful outcome.

Advances in Heart Rhythm Management

When a heart does need help with rhythm management, we’re now able to perform many procedures with minimal to no radiation exposure to the patient, thanks to ongoing advances in electrophysiology mapping systems. The advent of GPS-based systems will ultimately allow cardiac electrophysiologists to implant pacemakers and defibrillators with almost no X-ray exposure.

The continued miniaturization of pacemakers, defibrillators, and other implantable cardiac devices is another important advance. Within the next decade or two, many are likely to be about the size of a coin and will be placed directly onto the heart or in the heart wall, eliminating the need for any wires.

Our Heart Rhythm Management team at UT Southwestern is on the leading edge of such advances, and we care for every conceivable heart condition. Whether you feel like your palpitations have become bothersome or you know you’re experiencing the associated symptoms (chest pain, dizziness, shortness of breath, fainting), please set up an appointment by calling 214-645-8000 or visiting utswmedicine.org. We are here to help.

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