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What does it mean when your heart skips a beat?

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You and your heart probably have a good rhythm going. In fact, you may not even pay attention to the familiar lub-dub beat that happens about one time every second.
 
But what happens when your heart skips a beat or beats faster, even when you're relaxed?
 
A heartbeat that’s out of its usual rhythm is called arrhythmia. Your heart may beat too slowly. Or it may suddenly speed up for no apparent reason. If your heartbeat gets out of sync, the pattern of beats becomes irregular or chaotic.
 
Millions of people experience irregular or abnormal heartbeats in a lifetime. They can happen at any age and usually are not a concern. You may not even know your heart is off its usual beat.
 
In some cases, those flip-flops, flickers and flutters may be your heart’s way of telling you there’s a problem. Heart rhythm disorders can cause your heart to stop, called sudden cardiac arrest, or may lead to a stroke. That’s why it’s important to recognize signs of arrhythmias and get a checkup on your heart.

Know the signs of an irregular heartbeat

Atrial fibrillation – or AFib – is one of the most common types of arrhythmias. Your heart quivers or beats irregularly and oftentimes at a very rapid rate. AFib can lead to blood clots and stroke.
 
You may be unaware that your heart is in AFib. It’s easy to dismiss common signs, such as feeling tired, lack of energy, shortness of breath or palpitations that have been ignored.
 
Other AFib symptoms may sometimes look like a heart attack. If you have symptoms such as chest pain or tightness, fatigue or feeling worn out, feeling dizzy or lightheaded, or fainting, talk with your provider or heart doctor.

Getting your heart back in sync

If tests show signs of arrythmia, you may need to see a heart specialist. A cardiologist who specializes in heart rhythm problems is called an electrophysiologist. These doctors are specially trained to study the electrical activity of your heart.
 
Electrophysiology (EP) procedures offer more precise and safe treatments to bring your heart rhythm back to normal than conventional drug therapies.
 
Here’s what an electrophysiologist does during an EP procedure.

  • Insert a catheter through blood vessels and the heart to the diseased tissue
  • Record electrical signals using tiny instruments fed through the catheter
  • Study the speed and flow of electrical signals through the heart
  • Start arrhythmia using programmed electrical stimulation to identify rhythm problems
  • Pinpoint areas in the heart muscle that show abnormal electrical signals

The electrophysiologist may perform an ablation to treat arrythmia. That means using radiofrequency waves to produce a small scar on the heart tissue that causes the abnormal contractions.
 
Ablation of the abnormal tissue returns the heart to its normal rhythm. It also prevents or reduces chances of that abnormal electrical impulse occurring in the future.
 
If you feel tired all the time, have low energy or can’t catch your breath, talk with your healthcare provider. Those may be signs of AFib or other heart disorders.Or, if you want to talk to someone at the Heart & Vascular Center, call (574) 533-7476 to make an appointment.

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