Palpitations and arrhythmia
If you are having palpitations or a sensation of your heart racing or skipping a beat you may have a cardiac arrhythmia. It can be a feeling that your heartbeat has become strange, funny or abnormal. This may be accompanied by other symptoms such as chest pain, breathlessness (or a sensation that something is catching your breath) or lightheadedness. An arrhythmia is a disturbance of the normal heart rhythm and can be accompanied by other symptoms such as chest pain or fainting. It can also be difficult to diagnose. Arrhythmias can be benign with the symptoms being a nuisance, or they can be more dangerous particularly if accompanied by fainting or blackout. It can also indicate a condition called atrial fibrillation. Arrhythmia can be difficult to diagnose but the following tests can be useful to help reach a diagnosis:
Cardiology Tests and Procedures
- ECG Test – a simple 12 lead ECG is a heart tracing that can provide an indication of an underlying heart rhythm problem. It is a simple test that can be conducted in outpatients with the results available immediately. If the ECG is normal a heart problem may still be present but it is a simple and cheap test that can provide a lot of useful information.
- Ambulatory ECG monitoring – This is a portable ECG that a patient can wear up to 7 days and allows continuous monitoring of the patient’s ECG. Patients also get a diary so they can record the times of their symptoms. The ECG monitor is small (about the size of a mobile phone) with an activator button to press if the patient has symptoms. The ECG can then be analysed and matched to the times in the diary to see if the symptoms (such as chest pains or palpitations) match any changes in the ECG pattern.
- Implantable loop recorder procedure– This is a small device that can be implanted under the skin in a minor surgical procedure. The device has the ability to monitor the heart rhythm continuously over a 3- year period. A patient with this device implanted will have a separate recording device to record their ECG when they have symptoms and download them to the hospital for their doctor to review. It offers an advantage over standard portable ECG monitoring in that it means the next time the patient has an episode of palpitations or fainting it can be monitored because the device is implanted into the patient.