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Cardiology Specialists

Private Service, Cardiology

Heart Palpitations and Atrial Fibrillation

Your heart rate is controlled by a complex electrical system within the heart muscle which drives it to go faster when you exert yourself and slower when you rest.  A number of conditions can affect the heart rate or rhythm.  Heart rate simply refers to how fast your heart is beating.  Heart rhythm refers to the electrical source that is driving the heart rate and whether or not it is regular or irregular.
Some common terms;
  • Sinus rhythm is the normal rhythm
  • Arrhythmia means abnormal rhythm
  • Ectopics refers to extra heart beat
  • Atrial Fibrillation means irregular rhythm or quivering of filling chambers of the heart
  • Bradycardia means slow heart rate
  • Tachycardia means fast heart rate
  • Paroxysmal means the arrhythmia comes and goes
The most common of these is atrial fibrillation.  This is where your heart rhythm is irregular (all over the place) and often fast.  Symptoms include fatigue, palpitations (where you are aware of your heart racing or pounding), dizziness and breathlessness.
Other tachycardias include supraventricular tachycardia  (SVT) where the heart suddenly goes very fast. This can occur in young otherwise healthy people.  
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The most common form of this is ectopic beats where the heart seems to pause followed by a stronger beat. This can be very common. Other causes include heart block.  This is because messages from the electrical generator of the heart don't get through efficiently to the rest of the heart and hence it goes very slowly or can pause.  Symptoms of the heart going too slowly include feeling tired, breathless or fainting.
As well as having the following tests to diagnose what sort of arrhythmia you have you might be investigated for evidence of heart diseases that cause arrhythmias with echocardiography, blood tests, or tests looking for evidence of cardiovascular disease.
Resting Electrocardiogram (ECG).  This trace of the hearts electrical activity gives the diagnosis of the source of the arrhythmia. This is often normal at rest and more extensive testing is needed to try and catch the arrhythmia especially if it is intermittent.
Ambulatory ECG
Holter monitor. This test is used to monitor your heart for rhythm abnormalities during normal activity for an uninterrupted 24-hour period. During the test, electrodes attached to your chest are connected to a small portable recorder that's attached to your belt or hung from a shoulder strap. You can push a button to mark the recorder when you have a symptom. 
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This page was last updated at 3:42PM on April 22, 2021.