Every minute of every day of your life, your heart beats, pumping blood throughout your body, giving you energy.
Most of the time, you aren’t even aware this is happening — you’re just going about your business. How can you know, then, if your heartbeat is normal?
The team at Arlington Family Practice in Arlington, Massachusetts, understands your concern. Here, the providers share some information on what a normal heartbeat is like, and how to tell if your heartbeat has become abnormal (known as an arrhythmia).
What is a normal heartbeat?
If you count how many times your heart beats in a minute, you get your heart rate. The resting heart rate for an adult is usually 60-100 beats per minute. Your body automatically adjusts your heart rate depending on what you’re doing. It gets faster if you’re active and drops if you’re not.
Your pulse is how you can feel your heartbeat. The best places to feel your pulse are your neck just underneath your jawbone and the palm side of your wrist closest to your thumb.
Once you can feel your pulse, count the beats for 15 seconds and multiply by 4 — the answer is your heart rate.
If your heartbeat is slower than 60 beats per minute, this is called bradycardia; if it’s faster than 100 beats per minute, it’s called tachycardia.
What are symptoms of an abnormal heartbeat?
Changes in heart rhythms are sometimes harmless. Mild dehydration can increase your heart rate, for example, or medication may cause a small change that goes away when you switch prescriptions.
Some symptoms, though, mean you should seek medical advice. If you have a consistently fast or slow heartbeat, or if you feel an occasional skipped beat or have heart palpitations, make an appointment to see your doctor.
You should seek immediate medical help if you have chest pain along with shortness of breath, discomfort, or dizziness. If your family has a history of heart disease, your doctor might want to keep a closer eye on you too.
Treatment may include medications, a heart-healthy lifestyle, or even implanted devices or surgery to control your heartbeat.
Atrial fibrillation and atrial flutter
Heart arrhythmias occur when the electrical signals that coordinate heartbeats malfunction. In the case of two common arrhythmias, atrial fibrillation (AFib) and atrial flutter, the electrical signals occur faster than normal.
With AFib, the two top chambers of the heart (atria) receive disorganized electrical signals, so the beats aren’t coordinated with the bottom chambers (ventricles). This lack of coordination leads to an irregular and rapid rhythm.
With atrial flutter, the signals are organized, but they’re faster than normal, so only every other beat gets through to the ventricles.
Both atrial fibrillation and atrial flutter put you at increased risk of stroke, so early diagnosis and treatment are important.
Treatment usually starts with medication, but could also include an electrical shock to reset the rhythm of your heart or ablation to destroy the cells in your heart causing the abnormal rhythm.
SVT and VT
Two common types of tachycardia are supraventricular tachycardia (SVT), which starts in the atria, and ventricular tachycardia (VT), which begins in the ventricles.
Abnormal electrical pulses cause these rapid heartbeats. VT is more serious because it causes more severe symptoms and results in less blood reaching the rest of the body. Ventricular tachycardia is also associated with various types of heart disease.
Treatment can include medication, electrical shock, or ablation.
If you have any concerns about your heart, don’t wait to get it checked out. Call Arlington Family Practice to schedule an appointment or book today using our convenient online scheduler.