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Are heart palpitations a sign of atrial fibrillation?

If you have atrial fibrillation, you may experience heart palpitations. Heart palpitations are an uncomfortable but common occurrence. Most of the time, heart palpitations are not serious. However, if you have an arrhythmia such as atrial fibrillation, you need to see a doctor to get a medical evaluation. With palpitations, you feel like your heart is fluttering, pounding or racing inside your chest. You might think your heart is adding extra beats or even skipping beats. If you have a rapid heart rate (100 beats a minute or higher), it is referred to as tachycardia. If you have a slow heart rate (less than 60 beats a minute), it's called bradycardia. In addition, if you have heart valve problems, low potassium or heart disease, or if you have a high risk for heart disease, call your doctor immediately if you have heart palpitations.

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Dr. Douglas E. Severance, MD
Family Practitioner

Heart palpitations may or may not be a sign of atrial fibrillation. A palpitation is a feeling that your heart is beating too fast, too hard or skipping beats. Sometimes it can be a fluttering feeling in your chest. Heart palpitations can happen at any time of the day or night, even when you are asleep. Sometimes they are symptoms of an arrhythmia—an abnormal heart rhythm—such as the rapid and irregular heartbeat of atrial fibrillation. Arrhythmias can also be serious warning signs of a heart attack or heart valve problems. But most of the time, heart palpitations are harmless and may result from any number of causes, such as: too much stress; too much caffeine, alcohol or nicotine (from cigarette smoking); illegal drugs; diet pills; and medications for allergies and sinusitis.

You don’t necessarily have atrial fibrillation (AF) just because you feel a fluttering in your chest now and then. Panic attacks, cute crushes walking by, even a meeting with your boss can cause ’em.

However, palpitations—which is just a fancy word for the feeling that your heart is racing, pounding or beating irregularly or like crazy—are one of the classic symptoms of atrial fibrillation. Others include chest pain, weakness, lightheadedness and shortness of breath. And yes, a prior history and/or a history of disease of one of the valves of your heart is a predisposition to AF as well.

Heart palpitations can be a sign of atrial fibrillation. Heart palpitations are a subjective feeling of abnormal heart rhythm. There are many heart rhythm disorders and atrial fibrillation is one of them.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.