Almost everyone has felt their heart beat very fast, felt a "fluttering" in their chest or thought that their heart was "skipping a beat." These can be signs of arrhythmia, or abnormal or irregular heartbeat.
Don't panic if you've occasionally had these symptoms. Arrhythmias are extremely common, especially as you get older. Each year millions of people have them.
Most cases are harmless, but some arrhythmias are extremely dangerous and require treatment and management. See your doctor if you have felt any of these symptoms to rule out other problems, such as heart disease, and to give you peace of mind.
Arrhythmias can produce a broad range of symptoms, from barely perceptible to cardiovascular collapse and death. (View an animation of arrhythmia).
- A single premature beat may be felt as a "palpitation" or "skipped beat."
- Premature beats that occur often or in rapid succession may cause a greater awareness of heart palpitations or a "fluttering" sensation in the chest or neck.
When arrhythmias last long enough to affect how well the heart works, more serious symptoms may develop:
- Fainting (syncope) or near-fainting spells
- Rapid heartbeat or pounding
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain
- In extreme cases, collapse and sudden cardiac arrest
Several tests can help your doctor diagnose an arrhythmia.
Monitor your pulse
You should know how to take your pulse in order to monitor your heart rate – especially if you have an artificial pacemaker.
- Put the second and third fingers of one hand on the inside of the wrist of the other hand, just below the thumb OR on the side of your neck, just below the corner of your jaw.
- Feel for the pulse.
- Count the number of beats in one full minute.
- Keep a record of your pulse along with the day and time taken and notes about how you felt at the time. Use Heart360 to track your pulse online or download our printable blood pressure/pulse log (PDF).
This content was last reviewed on 05/30/2012.