Our heart skips a beat when we see someone we love or when we are excited or nervous.
What if your heart is skipping beats all the time? When to be concerned?
Our heart has a built-in electrical system that keeps the pump beating very efficiently most of the time. There are other smaller electrical circuits in our heart that are not quite as efficient- that occasionally gets excited. While this is mostly caused by adrenaline surges, sometimes scar tissue, lack of oxygen or electrolyte imbalances can trigger them too. That is what causes us to feel skipped beats. When it comes from the top chamber it is called premature atrial contraction or PACs.
When it comes from the bottom chamber it is called premature ventricular contraction or PVCs.
There are other types of rapid heart beats that are more sustained, generally people feel “racing heart” instead of “skipped beats”. These are called supraventricular tachycardia, atrial fibrillation or ventricular tachycardia and will be discussed elsewhere.
What are some other symptoms one can expect to have other than skipped beats? Some people may describe this as “flip flopping” of the heart or “hard beats”. Some experience that the heart stops for fraction of a second, others may feel they need to cough.
A lot of times these are innocent and come and go. A few simple lifestyle changes can sometimes improve symptoms- for example good sleep, staying hydrated, less caffeine, alcohol and stress management.
Sometimes symptoms are bothersome enough and simple lifestyle changes don’t work. That’s when one needs treatment. Treatment can range from medicines to minor procedures called ablation in rare instances.
When to be concerned? If you are also having dizziness and/or fainting, chest discomfort or shortness of breath, if you have underlying heart conditions or if you seem to have symptoms lasting several hours a day.