If you have heart palpitations with severe shortness of breath, chest pain or fainting, you should seek emergency medical attention immediately. If your palpitations are brief and there are no other worrisome signs or symptoms, make an appointment to see your doctor. Your doctor can help you find out if your palpitations are harmless or a symptom of a more serious heart condition.
Because appointments can be brief, and because there's often a lot of ground to cover, it's a good idea to be prepared for your appointment. Here's some information to help you get ready for your appointment, and what to expect from your doctor.
What you can do
- Be aware of any pre-appointment restrictions. At the time you make the appointment, be sure to ask if there's anything you need to do in advance, such as restrict your diet.
- Write down any symptoms you're experiencing, including any that may seem unrelated to heart palpitations.
- Write down key personal information, including a family history of heart disease, arrhythmias, stroke, high blood pressure or diabetes, and any major stresses or recent life changes.
- Make a list of all medications, as well as any vitamins or supplements, that you're taking.
- Take a family member or friend along, if possible. Sometimes it can be difficult to soak up all the information provided to you during an appointment. Someone who accompanies you may remember something that you missed or forgot.
- Be prepared to discuss your diet and exercise habits. If you don't already follow a diet or exercise routine, be ready to talk to your doctor about any challenges you might face in getting started.
- Write down questions to ask your doctor.
Your time with your doctor is limited, so preparing a list of questions will help you make the most of your time together. List your questions from most important to least important, in case time runs out. For heart palpitations, some basic questions to ask your doctor include:
- What is likely causing my symptoms or condition?
- What are other possible causes for my symptoms or condition?
- What should I do if my symptoms return?
- What kinds of tests will I need?
- Do I need treatment?
- What's an appropriate level of physical activity?
- What are the alternatives to the primary approach that you're suggesting?
- I have other health conditions. How can I best manage them together?
- Are there any restrictions that I need to follow?
- Should I see a specialist?
- Is there a generic alternative to the medicine you're prescribing me?
- Are there any brochures or other printed material that I can take home with me? What websites do you recommend visiting?
- In addition to the questions that you've prepared to ask your doctor, don't hesitate to ask questions during your appointment at any time that you don't understand something.
What to expect from your doctor
Your doctor is likely to ask you a number of questions. Being ready to answer them may reserve time to go over any points you want to spend more time on. Your doctor may ask:
- When did you first begin having heart palpitations?
- Have your symptoms been continuous, or occasional?
- Do your palpitations start and stop suddenly?
- Does it seem like your palpitations have a pattern, such as occurring the same time every day or every time you do a certain activity?
- Does your heart still beat steadily during the palpitations?
- What, if anything, seems to improve your symptoms?
- What, if anything, appears to worsen your symptoms?
- Are you having other symptoms such as shortness of breath, chest pain, fainting, or dizziness when you have palpitations?
- Have you ever had heart rhythm problems before, such as atrial fibrillation?
What you can do in the meantime
Before your appointment, you can try to improve your symptoms by avoiding activities or stresses that might cause your palpitations. Some common triggers include anxiety or panic attacks, drinking too much caffeine or alcohol, or taking some medications or supplements that contain stimulants, such as energy drinks or some cold medicines.
Apr. 21, 2011
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- Palpitations. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/dci/Diseases/hpl/hpl_all.html. Accessed Feb. 3, 2011.
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- Thompson J. Psychological and physical etiologies of heart palpitations. Holistic Nursing Practice. 2006;20:107.