About Lynn

lynn jaffeeLynn Jaffee is a licensed acupuncturist and the author of the book, Simple Steps: The Chinese Way to Better Health, a clear and concise explanation of Chinese medicine for the lay person. She is co-author of the book, The BodyWise Woman, a personal health manual for physically active women and girls. Read more about Lynn...

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All Aflutter: Help for Heart Palpitations

If you’ve ever had heart palpitations or the sensation of an irregular heartbeat, you know how scary it can be.  You wonder if it’s harmless or if this is the big one, and at what point you should get to your doctor.

The reality is that missed heartbeats, or arrhythmias, are usually harmless, and if they happen occasionally, not a cause for concern.  However, if your heart skips frequently, if you experience a string of missed beats, or if you feel like your heart is racing, you should definitely check it out with your doc. Also, if you feel light headed or dizzy while your heart is skipping, you should also see your doctor.

In Chinese medicine, your heart is the organ system that pushes blood throughout your body, just like in Western medicine.  However, the Chinese believe that your Heart is also home to your Shen, or spirit, and as such is responsible for your emotions, memory, and consciousness.  Sayings such as “knowing something with all your heart”, “tugging on your heartstrings” or having a “broken heart” give some credibility to the emotional connection to your heart.

As an organ of emotions and spirituality, your heart is very sensitive to upsets and stress.  In Chinese medicine, other symptoms associated with the heart system include anxiety, insomnia, and vivid dreams or nightmares.

Beyond emotional upsets, there are a number of physical factors that can cause your heart to skip beats.  If you’re experiencing palpitations, here are some tips to consider:

-Ditch the caffeine.  Coffee, tea, energy drinks, and even chocolate have the ability to aggravate irregular heartbeats.

-Ditto for alcohol. In some people, especially those sensitive to alcohol, even one drink can set off an episode of palpitations.

-If you’re a smoker, now is the time to quit. Smoking is never a good thing for your cardiovascular system, and can be an underlying cause of heart arrhythmias.  I know it’s easy to make this recommendation, but much harder to execute, especially if you’re a long-time smoker.  Acupuncture can be an effective way to help you quit.

-Take stock of your stress.  Many people experience palpitations only when they’re under a lot of stress. What’s that tell you?  Take some action—Yoga, meditation, massage, acupuncture—to relieve stressful situations, and the stress itself.

-Ease into exercise.  People who are prone to irregular heartbeats can trigger an episode if they begin strenuous exercise too quickly.  Warm up for a few minutes before your workout and then cool down afterwards.

-What’s in your medicine cabinet?  Many prescription and over-the-counter drugs can cause irregular heartbeats.  Some notorious offenders are Tagamet, decongestants, asthma inhalers, some antidepressants, and (ironically) drugs to treat arrhythmia.  Check the literature that comes with your prescription or talk to your pharmacist, and ultimately, your doctor if you think your meds are causing skipped beats.

-Don’t hold your breath.  Shallow, tense, or rapid breathing can also be a trigger for irregular beats in some people.  Pay attention to how you’re breathing, and allow yourself to inhale and exhale fully with each breath.

-Push away from the table.  For people who are prone to arrhythmias, overeating can cause an overload that may trigger an episode of irregular heartbeats.  So, along with ditching the alcohol, chocolate, and cigarettes, eat a little less, too.

While heart palpitations are frequently caused by lifestyle factors that you can control, they still can be alarming and make you worry about your health.  If you have any questions about what you are experiencing, the safest option is to check with your doctor.  Even if your skipped beats are harmless, you’ll have peace of mind.

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