Pleasanton Weekly

- January 29, 2010

When an irregular heartbeat should send you to the doctor

You may chalk up that flutter in your chest to too much rich food during the holidays, or think that your heart skips a beat here or there in response to the upcoming tax season. For most people, those occasional irregularities are harmless. But if your irregular heart rhythms are combined with a diagnosis of heart failure, they can be serious - and ignoring them may make your condition worse.

Your heart is essentially a powerful electric pump. If a breakdown occurs in the heart's complex internal communication system, it can cause your heart to beat irregularly. It's possible for healthy people to experience occasional irregular heart beats. But if you already have heart problems, you should be aware of the symptoms of an irregular heart beat.

On its webite www.abouthf.org, the Heart Failure Society of America points to these common symptoms of an irregular heart beat:

* If your heart skips a beat, flutters or pounds in your chest.

* You experience dizziness or feel "light-headed."

* You experience sudden shortness of breath not related to physical exertion.

* You feel inexplicably weak from time to time.

* You faint or suddenly lose consciousness.

If you regularly experience these symptoms, see your doctor. In order to diagnose your condition, your doctor will likely start with an electrocardiogram (ECG) that monitors electrical activity in your heart. If the ECG doesn't explain your irregular heart rhythm, your doctor may next ask you to wear a Holter Monitor, a small, portable device that records your heart beats over a longer period of time -- typically 24 to 48 hours. He'll also ask you to keep a diary of your symptoms while wearing the monitor. There are several other tests that can help diagnose heart rhythm problems. Talk to your doctor about what's best for you.

If tests show that you have a heart rhythm problem, you may not necessarily need treatment. Your doctor will develop a treatment plan for you if the problem requires treatment. This plan may include medicines such as blood thinners that help prevent blood clots and reduce the risk of stroke, an implantable device like a pacemaker or defibrillator to help regulate your heart beats, or even surgery.

You can take some steps to minimize the impact of your irregular heart rhythm. Check with your health care provider before taking any over-the-counter medications, including nutritional supplements. Immediately tell your doctor if you experience muscle cramps, nausea, vomiting, unusual fatigue or weakness or a dry mouth -- these can indicate a potassium imbalance that can make your heart problems worse. If you smoke, quit, and reduce your alcohol consumption. Exercise under the guidance of your doctor; don't start any exercise program until you've consulted with him or her.

You can learn more about irregular heart rhythms and heart failure at www.abouthf.org, the website of the Heart Failure Society of America.

Courtesy of ARAcontent

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