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Description of the Symptom

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.

Special Concerns

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:

  • 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

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.

Overview of Palpitations

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.

CHAPTER PREVIEW: Conditions That May Lead to Palpitations

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