If heart palpitations have been scaring you due to frequency, duration or just the way they feel, you need to know exactly what to tell a cardiologist.
Many people get occasional sensations of skipping, thumping, fluttering or flip-flopping of their heartbeat.
Though the terms “palpitation” and “rapid pulse” are often used interchangeably by the media, let’s stick to the sensation of a skipped or fluttering heartbeat, or the sensation of an extra beat.
The pulse isn’t necessarily racing when this occurs. The palpitations may occur in singles here and there, or in doubles or triples (“runs”), sometimes many per minute or just a few per hour or day or even week. Months, even, may pass in between palpitations.
You should tell a cardiologist about these. If they are accompanied by any other symptoms (chest pain, a feeling of faintness, weakness, a problem with breathing or feeling short of breath, headache, nausea), then see a doctor as soon as you can.
What Your Cardiologist Will Ask About Your Heart Palpitations
Have the answers to the following questions ready before you step into the doctor’s office.
“Here are some questions that your doctor will ask,” says Roger Mills, MD, cardiologist and former professor of medicine, University of Florida, and author of “240 Beats per Minute. Life with an Unruly Heart.”
• “What were you doing when you noticed the palpitations?
• If you were sitting quietly, did they go away when you got up and moved around?
• If you were exercising, did you feel as if you had to stop?
• If you had just exercised, did you do a few minutes of cooling down or did you stop abruptly?
• If the palpitations lasted for a while, what was your pulse rate? Was it regular or irregular?
• Did you feel lightheaded during the episode?
• Did you have to urinate afterword?
• Had you been under stress?
• Had you used drugs or alcohol before the palpitations started?”
When you experience palpitations, immediately write down or speak into your phone any relevant occurrences that will address the above questions – such as caffeine consumption or emotional stress.
- This means have your phone or a pen and paper always nearby.
- If nothing ever seems to happen along with or correlate to the episodes, jot that down as well.
Record any information that can help the cardiologist assess your heart palpitations. This will help put things into better context when the doctor reviews your ECG and other tests.
Dr. Mills is the former medical director of the heart failure and heart transplant service at the University of Florida, was a staff cardiologist at The Cleveland Clinic and has authored over 100 peer-reviewed publications.
Lorra Garrick has been covering medical, fitness and cybersecurity topics for many years, having written thousands of articles for print magazines and websites, including as a ghostwriter. She’s also a former ACE-certified personal trainer.