Peter Hibberd, M.D., is a doctor whose advice is based on more than 28 years of hospital outpatient and inpatient experience. He is an experienced emergency medicine physician, surgeon, and consultant. Dr. Hibberd is certified by the American Board of Emergency Medicine. He is also a fellow and active member of the American Academy of Family Physicians, an active member of the American College of Emergency Physicians, and a member and fellow of the American Academy of Emergency Medicine. Dr. Hibberd has earned numerous national and international professional certifications, memberships, and awards.
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Irregular Heartbeats

Wednesday, 23 Feb 2011 10:30 AM

Question: For the past 30 years I have experienced an irregular heartbeat a few times a year, but in the last eight months it has been occurring almost constantly. Could this be due to stress?

Dr. Hibberd's Answer:

Irregular heartbeats have many causes. Stress may accelerate and accentuate an irregular heart rate, but it will not cause your heartbeat to be irregular.

Have your EKG checked for irregularity, and if not noted, request a 24-hour Holter monitor or an event monitor to define what the heart rhythm is so your treatment can be fine tuned. Sometimes a stress test also may be recommended.

Some irregular heartbeats, called ventricular arrhythmias, are dangerous, while others are innocent and rarely need treatment, such as premature atrial contractions. Some rapid heartbeats, like atrial fibrillation, increase our risk for stroke and should be carefully managed.

In general, rapid heartbeat episodes may be symptoms of underlying conducting system disease with or without coronary artery disease, or internal electrolyte disorders and should never be ignored. Any change in frequency of irregular heartbeat is always of concern.

The price may be your life if you ignore one of the serious causes, especially if your intrinsic cardiac pacemaker fails or the irregular heartbeat deteriorates into a lethal heart rhythm that interrupts the ability of the heart to pump blood to your brain.


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