Recently I started experiencing spells when my heart races. The pounding lasts a few minutes and is sometimes accompanied by dizzy spells. It has happened a few times recently. Could this be a sign of something serious that I should get checked out and what tests are available to me? I am a 49-year-old man.
Dr Chris Pepper, Consultant Cardiologist replies:
Awareness, often unpleasant, of your own heart beat is termed ‘palpitation’. Your description of a sustained racing sensation accompanied by dizziness suggests your heart may be slipping into an abnormal rhythm, or arrhythmia.
There are many forms of arrhythmia. Some are dangerous, however if you are otherwise well, have no other heart problems and are not losing consciousness during your palpitations it would suggest that your arrhythmia is relatively unlikely to be putting you at risk. Despite this the symptoms can be unpleasant, unpredictable and may be frightening.
Fortunately most forms of arrhythmia are readily treated either with rhythm stabilising drugs or increasingly commonly with a potentially curative treatment called catheter ablation. This involves fixing the problem within the heart by through special wires (catheters)passed via the veins at the top of your leg. This can be performed under local anaesthetic or only light sedation and can often be done without the need to spend a night in hospital.
I would encourage you to speak to your doctor about the possibility of a referral to a heart specialist with an interest in treating heart rhythm disorders. He or she may recommend tests which could include heart traces (ECGs) or scans in order to identify the nature of the problem. Further information can be obtained from the heart rhythm charity Arrhythmia Alliance www.heartrhythmcharity.co.uk.