Arrhythmias, and other frequently asked heart questions

What are heart palpitations?

Heart palpitations are the sensation of an irregular rapid or slow beat in the heart. For one type of heart rhythm disturbance, known as supraventricular tachycardia, palpitations can feel as though the heart is racing, about to burst through the chest. Other palpitations are less severe, as they occur with atrial fibrillation and supraventricular tachycardia.

Are having heart palpitations an early warning sign of cardiac problems?

Heart palpitations can be a serious, potentially life-threatening problem coming from the lower chambers of the heart. On the other hand, a heart palpitation may be due to a benign cause. It can be difficult to distinguish one from the other by the way palpitations feel.

What does one do if they have heart palpitations?

The best thing to do if you have palpitations, is to have an assessment of what that heart rhythm problem is. This can be done by a Holter monitor or an Event monitor.

A Holter monitor is a monitor that has a tape recorder in it and it records all of the heart beats for a period of 24 to 48 hours.

An Event monitor is given for approximately one month. If someone has this device and feels the palpitations, they can record that episode and send by phone to a hospital/clinic to have the rhythm problem evaluated.

Can atrial fibrillation ever just go away?

Generally, when someone only has one episode of atrial fibrillation, it is due to some precipitating event such as pericarditis, alcohol, or some acute illness, which might cause vomiting, for example, the flu.

Most people who have no obvious cause for atrial fibrillation are likely to have another episode sometime in their life. It is unclear when that episode would be. Some people have frequent episodes on a daily basis; others will have one every few years.

Can you ever stop taking atrial fibrillation medication?

Atrial fibrillation can resolve over time, and it might be reasonable to discontinue the medication if the rhythm has been stable for a long time, from six months to a year and if the rhythm disturbance was infrequent and not severe.

Atrial fibrillation severity differs from patient to patient. If someone has multiple and frequent episodes of atrial fibrillation that are poorly tolerated, but a medication is begun and the episodes go away, it would not make sense to stop the medication.

However, for the patient who has only occasional episodes and appears to have a controlled rhythm on a medication for a period of time, it might be reasonable to stop the medication and see if the rhythm problem has resolved or requires treatment.

Some people have greater risks of the side effects of the medications for atrial fibrillation than benefits from the atrial fibrillation medication.

Is biofeedback effective in managing atrial flutter/fibrillation?

This has not yet been shown with any degree of certainty but there are reasons to suspect that conditions like atrial fibrillation may respond well to biofeedback or even meditation.

In some patients, atrial flutter/fibrillation are due to increases in stress. Ways to reduce this stress can eliminate atrial fibrillation. This will not work for everyone of course, but some people will have atrial fibrillation when they are overactive, with alcohol, playing sports and others will have it even after eating a big meal or with no potential cause.

Some people have atrial fibrillation due to underlying heart problems. People who would benefit most, would be those who have a normal heart and have short-lived episodes of atrial fibrillation.

Last reviewed: 
December 2018

Interested in using our health content?