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Change in Heartbeat - Topic Overview

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Your heart normally beats in a regular rhythm and rate that is just right for the work your body is doing at any moment. The usual resting heart rate for adults is between 50 to 100 beats per minute. Children have naturally higher normal heart rates than adults.

The heart camera.gif is a pump made up of four chambers camera.gif: two upper chambers (atria) and two lower chambers (ventricles). It is powered by an electrical system camera.gif that puts out pulses in a regular rhythm. These pulses keep the heart pumping and keep blood flowing to the lungs and body.

When the heart beats too fast, too slow, or with a skipping (irregular) rhythm, a person is said to have an arrhythmia. A change in the heart's rhythm may feel like an extra-strong heartbeat (palpitation) or a fluttering in your chest. Premature ventricular contractions (PVCs) often cause this feeling.

A heartbeat that is occasionally irregular usually is not a concern if it does not cause other symptoms, such as dizziness, lightheadedness, or shortness of breath. It is not uncommon for children to have extra heartbeats. In healthy children, an extra heartbeat is not a cause for concern.

Many changes in heart rate or rhythm are minor and do not require medical treatment if you do not have other symptoms or a history of heart disease. Smoking, drinking alcohol or caffeine, or taking other stimulants such as diet pills or cough and cold medicines may cause your heart to beat faster or skip a beat. Your heart rate or rhythm can change when you are under stress or having pain. Your heart may beat faster when you have an illness or a fever. Hard physical exercise usually increases your heart rate, which can sometimes cause changes in your heart rhythm.

Dietary supplements, such as goldenseal, oleander, motherwort, or ephedra (also called ma huang), may cause irregular heartbeats.

It is not uncommon for pregnant women to have minor heart rate or rhythm changes. These changes usually are not a cause for concern for women who do not have a history of heart disease.

Well-trained athletes usually have slow heart rates with occasional pauses in the normal rhythm. Evaluation is usually not needed unless other symptoms are present, such as lightheadedness or fainting (syncope), or there is a family history of heart problems.

Irregular heartbeats change the amount of blood that flows to the lungs and other parts of the body. The amount of blood that the heart pumps may be decreased when the heart pumps too slow or too fast.

Changes such as atrial fibrillation that start in the upper chambers of the heart can be serious, because they increase your risk of forming blood clots in your heart. This in turn can increase your risk for having a stroke or a blood clot in your lungs (pulmonary embolism). People who have heart disease, heart failure, or a history of heart attack should be more concerned with any changes in their usual heart rhythm or rate.

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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: September 13, 2012
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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