ZocdocAnswersWhat causes an irregular heartbeat?

Question

What causes an irregular heartbeat?

I'm an older woman and it seems like my heartbeats can be really irregular sometimes. My partner thinks it's because I drink so much coffee, but I worry that it could be something more serious. What can cause irregular heartbeats?

Answer

An irregular heartbeat should always be evaluated by a physician. A primary care physician can do some initial testing, but questions about the heart are best handled by a cardiologist. An irregular heartbeat can be caused by many different things. This kind of symptom can represent a serious medical condition or can be a harmless finding that does not require any treatment. In order to distinguish between the two, it is important for this symptom to be evaluated by a physician. An abnormality in the electrical conducting system of the heart can cause an irregular heartbeat. This category includes conditions such as atrial fibrilliation, atrial flutter, or paroxysmal supraventricular tachycardia. These irregular rhythms can often cause a very rapid heartbeat that may come and go. Electrolyte abnormalities or side effects from other medications or substances like caffeine can also cause palpitations or an irregular heartbeat. Stress or extreme emotions can also cause an irregular heartbeat. Underlying heart disease can also cause an irregular heartbeat. This kind of palpitation is most often seen in people who are recovering from heart surgery or who have coronary artery disease (with risk factors including diabetes, high blood pressure, or high cholesterol). In order to determine which of these many factors is responsible for an irregular heartbeat, a cardiologist may evaluate laboratory blood work, obtain an EKG, or even consider other testing.

This answer is for general informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice.

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