If you've experienced irregular heartbeat after exercise, know that this is a somewhat common occurrence. Most often, it doesn't indicate a serious problem. Your physician can help you address the issue so you can focus on maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
Normal Heart Rhythm Versus Palpitations
If you've ever experienced cardiac arrhythmia, or an abnormal heart rhythm, you'll know it's something that quickly gets your attention. Resting adult hearts beat at 60 to 100 times each minute, according to the University of Chicago Medicine Center for Arrhythmia Care.
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The heart's electrical system regulates its operation, directing the two atria (upper chambers) and two ventricles (lower chambers) to work in unison. When all components operate correctly, your heart's chambers contract and relax to transport blood to your body.
However, sometimes the heart's chambers don't function correctly, and premature ventricular contractions, or PVCs, occur, states the Frankel Cardiovascular Center. These additional heartbeats originate from the ventricles, and get your heart's regular rhythm off track.
As a result, you can feel palpitations, or skipped beats. This phenomenon occurs quite often, and can have several different sources. Most of the time, it isn't cause for worry.
Causes of Irregular Heartbeat
Dr. John Hummel, a heart rhythm specialist at Ohio State University-affiliated Richard M. Ross Heart Hospital, explains that you can experience four different varieties of irregular heartbeats. You might feel a skipped beat, or notice an extra beat. Your heart could also beat too quickly (known as tachycardia), or beat too slowly (known as bradycardia).
Numerous external factors could be getting your heart's rhythm off track. If you consume excessive caffeine or alcohol, or become dehydrated, you might feel palpitations. Fever, anemia, emotional distress and sleep apnea can also be the culprits. Pregnancy can trigger irregular heartbeats, as can drug abuse.
If you experience irregular heartbeats, Dr. Hummel recommends you record each episode's details, and provide your physician with that information. He notes that abnormal heart rhythms can appear, and then disappear, particularly in younger patients. In some cases, no treatment will be necessary.
Irregular Heartbeat After Exercise
Exercise and irregular heartbeats don't have a concrete "cause and effect" relationship, according to the University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics. For example, as well as experiencing heart palpitations after exercise, you may experience them before a workout session, too.
Once you begin to exercise, your heart rate naturally becomes elevated. When that happens, the related extra beats go away.
After the workout, your adrenaline level remains elevated for a certain period, but your heart rate begins to decrease. Heart palpitations after exercise might return, possibly at a higher rate and frequency than before your workout. If you don't have any additional symptoms, or they're very mild, there's generally less cause for concern.
However, if your irregular heartbeat after exercise is accompanied by chest discomfort or shortness of breath, a feeling of extreme lightheadedness and even a loss of consciousness, see your doctor without delay.
When Is Irregular Heartbeat Serious?
Dr. Hummel stresses that some instances of irregular heartbeat when not exercising also warrant an immediate visit to your doctor. If the irregular heartbeat is accompanied by symptoms such as chest pain, shortness of breath, dizziness, fainting or leg swelling, get medical attention quickly.
If you experience an irregular heartbeat, and you've previously had a heart attack, that's also cause for an immediate doctor's visit.
During your doctor's visit, your physician will obtain more information about your actions leading up to the irregular heartbeat occurrence. They'll also study your medical history. Dr. Hummel notes that you could actually have inherited your abnormal heart rhythm.
Next, your physician (or a cardiac specialist) will request an echocardiogram, which evaluates your heart's structure and functionality. To gauge your heart's response to physical exertion, you may be asked to complete a stress test on a stationary bike or treadmill.
To obtain "real time" data on your heart's function and rhythm, you may need to wear a Holter monitor for 24 to 48 hours. This small device shouldn't inhibit your activities, and will record each heartbeat, along with any irregular heartbeat occurrences.
Risk Factors for Irregular Heartbeat
Maybe you aren't currently affected by an irregular heartbeat, but you wonder if that could change. The Mayo Clinic notes that numerous factors can increase the chances that you'll be affected by an abnormal heart rhythm.
If you often experience high levels of stress, or have frequent panic attacks or an anxiety-related condition, your risk can increase. Taking medications containing stimulants, such as certain asthma or cold medicines, can also trigger an irregular heartbeat. If you have an overly active thyroid gland, or you're pregnant, you have a higher risk too.
Existing heart conditions are an important part of the equation. If you've been diagnosed with a heart defect or arrhythmia, you're more susceptible to an abnormal heart rhythm. Finally, if you previously had a heart attack, or underwent any type of heart surgery, you're also more likely to be affected.
Read more: 10 Weird Side Effects of Stress
Can an Irregular Heartbeat Disappear?
Maybe you've experienced an irregular heartbeat in the past, and you wonder if it was an isolated occurrence.
The Marshfield Clinic states that an irregular heartbeat episode can stem from several distinct factors. Your heart could be affected by an electrolyte imbalance, or you might be coping with an acute illness. Alcohol or drug use can also cause an irregular heartbeat.
If the episode's determining factor is resolved, you might never be affected by an irregular heartbeat again. Or, you could have additional episodes at any point throughout your lifetime. Fortunately, most occurrences of irregular heartbeat don't indicate a serious problem.
So, what can you do to minimize the chances it will happen again? The U.S. National Library of Medicine recommends you decrease your caffeine intake, and stop using nicotine in any form. Embarking on a well-rounded exercise program is also advisable.
Find ways to knock down your stress and anxiety levels. By keeping yourself calmer, you'll be less likely to experience palpitations, and better able to cope with them when they do occur. Ask your physician to recommend some deep breathing or relaxation exercises.
Begin to practice yoga, tai chi or meditation on a consistent basis. They will help to promote a sense of calmness, and may also improve your balance and coordination.
The Cleveland Clinic recommends you work with your doctor to keep your blood pressure and cholesterol under control. In addition, avoid taking medications that function as stimulants. Besides cold and cough medicines, stimulants can include nutritional and herbal supplements.
Avoid engaging in activities that seem to accompany your palpitations. Finally, if your palpitations aren't found to have a serious cause, try to ignore them and focus on something uplifting and positive instead.
Should You Exercise With Palpitations?
If you've recently experienced some heart palpitations after exercise, you might wonder if it's safe to keep your workouts going.
Dr. Scott Brancato, a cardiologist/electrophysiologist with Providence St. Vincent Heart Clinic-Heart Rhythm Consultants, stresses that most people with abnormal heart rhythms can maintain their exercise regime. In a few genetics-related cases, a physician might discourage a patient's exercise, but those instances are rare. In fact, your physician might actively encourage you to keep those workouts going.
To resolve your specific situation, your physician will likely recommend a few commonly prescribed tests. With the results, they'll determine if you can exercise safely and what physical activities your heart can tolerate.
If your doctor clears you to continue normal workouts, start slowly and monitor your body's responses to physical exertion. You can gradually raise your exercise tolerance and increase your stamina over time.
- University of Chicago Medicine Center for Arrhythmia Care: “Heart Rhythm Disorders (Arrhythmias)”
- Frankel Cardiovascular Center: “Premature Ventricular Contractions (PVCs) and Premature Atrial Contractions (PACs)”
- Ohio State University: “When Should You Get an Irregular Heartbeat Checked?”
- University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics: “Heart Palpitations: Frequently Asked Questions”
- Mayo Clinic: “Heart Palpitations”
- Marshfield Clinic: “Heart Arrhythmia”
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: “Heart Palpitations”
- Cleveland Clinic: “Heart Palpitations: Prevention”
- Providence Health Plan: “Can You Exercise Safely With an Arrhythmia?”