Faran Bashir, MD, is a board-certified cardiologist at Banner Estrella Medical Center. He can be reached by calling (602) 277-6181.
Question: What is tachycardia? I feel my heart “flutter” and it feels like the room is vibrating. What can I do to treat this?
Answer: Tachycardia is a form of cardiac arrhythmia, or a rapid beating of the heart.
The “fluttering” of your heart that you are experiencing is commonly called palpitations. Most often, palpitations are benign in nature and are an unpleasant awareness of the forceful, rapid or irregular beating of the heart. A list of potential causes of palpitations is very extensive.
You should provide a list of all medications, including over-the-counter medications that you are currently taking, to your treating physician. Certain medications may cause palpitations as one of their side effects. In addition, the use of nicotine (tobacco use), excessive caffeine intake and certain illicit drugs may bring on or worsen symptoms of palpitations.
In your case, a feeling of rapid fluttering in the chest suggests presence of a sustained ventricular or supraventricular arrhythmia (rhythm disorder originating in the lower or upper chamber of the heart, respectively).
If you are not currently seeing a cardiologist, you should get a referral to see one. You may initially require a 24-hour recording of your heart rhythm, assessment of your thyroid hormone levels, or an echocardiogram to assess the structure of the heart and possibly a stress test.
Once the initial evaluation is complete, your cardiologist will be able to determine whether your current therapy is sufficient or you will need a referral to an electrophysiologist (a heart doctor specializing in heart rhythm disorders).
Different types of medical therapies available include beta blockers, calcium channel blockers and digoxin. These medicines work by slowing transmission of heart impulses from upper to lower chamber of heart thus reducing symptomatic tachycardia (palpitations).
If medical therapy is not helping and a significant heart rhythm disorder is identified, then an invasive evaluation of your “electrical system” of the heart is usually necessary to guide further therapy. Different types of invasive rhythm therapy include ablation of atrial flutter, atrial fibrillation and other types of aberrant pathways within the heart. Some patients may even require a pacemaker before they can be fully treated.
Palpitations rarely may be indicative of a potentially fatal rhythm disorder which may require implantation of a shocking device called AICD or a defibrillator.