During periods when your muscles and other organs require additional oxygen, your heart speeds up to provide oxygen-rich blood to them. A normal heart rate for most adults is 60-100 beats per minute, but this can increase to the high-100s during periods of exercise, pain, stress, or fever
. A sensation of your heart speeding up outside of this setting could potentially indicate the heart has switched into an abnormal rhythm. This can occur rapidly and resolve on its own. The heart can beat so rapidly that it cannot adequately fill between beats, meaning it is unable to pump enough blood to your body. This can cause a lack of blood flow to your head causing headache
, lightheadedness, sweats, or loss of consciousness. Given the persistence of your symptoms and their severe impact on your daily activities, it is critical that you consult your physician for diagnosis and management.
Several common arrhythmias include atrial fibrillation, atrial flutter, atrioventricular reciprocating tachycardia, AV nodal reentrant tachycardia, or atrial tachycardia. Given your age and description of symptoms, one of these is the most likely arrhythmia if this is indeed what is causing these symptoms. It is also possible you are experiencing frequent premature atrial or ventricular complexes, which are essentially early heart beats that originate outside the heart's normal electrical system. These are common and typically benign, but they can cause problems for the heart muscle if they occur frequently. Rarely, an arrhythmia can originate in the ventricles, or lower chambers of the heart, causing an arrhythmia such as ventricular tachycardia. This can be life threatening, and it is important to consult your physician to determine how best to further evaluate your symptoms.
For someone with palpitations or an irregular heart beat, an evaluation typically consists of a thorough history, physical exam, and EKG. Based on these results, you may require a 24-hour EKG monitor or event monitor that you place on your chest to record the rhythm during these episodes when they occur. You may also require an echocardiogram
, or ultrasound of your heart, which can help identify structural heart problems such as hypertrophic cardiomyopathy or arrhythmogenic right ventricular dysplasia, which can predispose one to dangerous arrhythmias. It is critical that you be evaluated by a physician to determine whether your symptoms represent a benign or more dangerous process and to help determine the next appropriate diagnostic studies.