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Description of the Symptom

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This chapter describes pathology that may lead to palpitations. The term palpitations refers to an uncomfortable awareness of the heartbeat, usually associated with a cardiac dysrhythmia. The individual may report noticing a forceful, rapid, irregular, or slow heartbeat and may experience associated symptoms that include light-headedness, shortness of breath, chest discomfort, or frank syncope.

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Special Concerns

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The therapist should be prepared to administer basic life support interventions or activate the emergency medical system should an individual present with palpitations in association with any of the following:

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  • Significant shortness of breath, chest discomfort, light-headedness, or presyncopal symptoms (faintness, dizziness, weakness, etc)

  • Marked hypertension (>220/110) or hypotension (<90/60 in an individual who is typically normotensive)

  • Occurring suddenly (paroxysmal) and lasting longer than 15 to 20 minutes with associated symptoms

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Individuals who experience palpitations and who also have a family history of sudden death represent a high-risk population. These individuals merit special consideration and the therapist should initiate a timely referral to the appropriate health care provider for definitive assessment.

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Overview of Palpitations

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Palpitations are a conscious awareness of one's own heartbeat. The sensation may be described as a pounding, racing, or irregular heartbeat and can usually be felt in the chest, throat, or neck. Often, the individual reports a fluttering in the chest or a skipped beat.

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CHAPTER PREVIEW: Conditions That May Lead to Palpitations

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