When the heart skips a beat, we sometimes feel this. The feeling of a missed hit or right and extra hit is clearly present and palpable against the chest or in the throat. If this happens more often, fear or panic can arise, causing the heart to become even more disrupted. It is therefore important to know what can cause a heart to lose its rhythm and when this has consequences.
The heart skips a beat
Sometimes we clearly feel our heart skip a beat. This is scary when it happens several times in a row or several times a day. But what exactly is heart failure?
The heart beats an average of 60 to 80 beats per minute at rest. Children have a faster heart rate at rest. The heart rate is also sometimes called pulse rate. The number of beats per minute depends on the age and condition of the heart. People who exercise a lot train the heart muscle, making it more effective and beating less often at rest. During exercise, more oxygen is needed for the muscles and the heart rate increases. The number of strokes per minute can be up to 150-200. This also depends on age and the condition of the heart.
The heart should not beat the same rhythm continuously. A heart that would do this is not a healthy heart. A healthy heart is able to adapt to the body’s oxygen needs. This allows the heart to first beat 70 beats per minute, the next minute 80 and the next minute 74. It is therefore not alarming if the heart rate changes from moment to moment. Only when large and clear differences are noticeable that do not match the moment of exertion, there may be more going on.
Skip a beat
Sometimes the heart skips a beat, or at least that’s how it feels. What we feel may be:
- The feeling that the heart is missing a beat
- An extra hard beat of the heart *thump*
- The feeling that the heart is going out of rhythm
- Feeling the heart beating in your throat or against your chest
- Anxiety and sweating when this occurs more often
- A hunted feeling
- Increased heartrate
With each beat, the ventricles, atriums and ventricles are squeezed together. In fact, each heartbeat consists of three phases:
- The heart muscle is relaxed and the atria fill with blood
- The atria contract, causing blood to flow to the ventricles
- The ventricles contract and squeeze blood out of the heart
And so we come back to step 1. The contraction of the atria and ventricles is regulated by electrical currents. The sinus node transmits an electrical impulse that causes the atria to contract first. The AV node holds this impulse for a moment and then passes it on, after which the ventricles contract. This interplay ensures a regular heartbeat.
When the heart skips a beat, there is in fact no missed beat but an extra beat. First there is a weak contraction of the atria or ventricles. Insufficient blood is pumped and the heart responds to this by a stronger contraction. This stronger contraction is the extra stroke or the transshipment as it is called. We feel that extra blow as a thump in the throat or against the chest.
In most cases, heart failure is completely harmless. Everyone suffers from it sometimes, but not everyone feels it clearly enough. When we bend over or lie on our left side, we feel the heartbeat better and notice a skipping heart much sooner. The heart is also more clearly visible during sports or heavy exertion and an arrhythmia is noticed. Because that is what a skipping heart is actually called: it is a (temporary) rhythm disorder.
Although most cases are completely harmless, there are a number of factors (triggers) that can provoke an arrhythmia:
- Using medications, alcohol, nicotine and drugs
- Stress and tension
- Fear or panic
- Use of caffeine (coffee and tea)
- Certain foods such as the flavor enhancer E621
- Insomnia or fatigue
- Lack of oxygen during sudden great exertion
In addition to these often harmless causes, there are also causes that are more serious. For example, there are certain diseases that cause an irregular heartbeat or skipping of the heart. A poorly functioning thyroid gland is the cause of this. A skipped heart rate is also more common in diabetes. Another cause is heart disease, aging of the heart or vascular disease that causes the heart muscle to receive insufficient oxygen. Sometimes cardiac arrhythmias run in families.
Dangerous or not?
If the heart occasionally skips a beat, this does not pose a health risk. It is a completely harmless phenomenon. Only when the heart beats more often can danger occur. The blood flows temporarily less well and this can cause blood clots to form. These blood clots can block major arteries. The result is a cerebral infarction or a heart attack. Blood clots are often first recognized by the retention of fluid behind the lungs and in the legs (leg edema). People who often suffer from a skipped heart should visit their doctor. This can determine whether further research is necessary. Further examination often consists of an electrocardiogram (ECG), sometimes a cycling test or a Holter examination.