Irregular heartbeat during exercise, known also as a heart arrhythmia, premature heart contractions or colloquially as skipping a beat, can result from a variety of causes. Some of these causes relate to permanent conditions or diseases, while others are temporary conditions. Self-diagnosis of the cause for an irregular heartbeat may delay lifesaving treatment. Consulting a medical professional to determine the cause of the arrhythmia is highly recommended.
Regular and Irregular Heartbeat
MedlinePlus defines a normal at-rest heartbeat to be between 60 and 100 beats per minute. Medication may lower the average normal heart rate. Medical terms for heart conditions include bradycardia, a term for heartbeats slower than these rates, and tachycardia, heartbeats of 100 or more per minute. Irregular heartbeats may include the sensations of palpitations, rapid heartbeat, or missing a beat.
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Increased Heartbeats During Exercise
People who regularly work out may lower their at-rest heartbeat to 55 beats per minute or less. Gym conditions, including lack of oxygen or high air temperature, may contribute to irregular heartbeats. MedlinePlus recommends taking your pulse when the feeling of heart skips occurs. This information may be important to your doctor in diagnosing a potential heart problem.
Heart Stress During Exercise
Heart stress during exercise may create heartbeat irregularities. Hyperventilation, low levels of oxygen in the body, and exercise workouts involving a high level of exertion or prolonged sessions may create palpitations or a feeling of the heart skipping a beat. Smoking and high levels of caffeine increase the chances for irregular heartbeat. MedlinePlus links these factors, along with excess weight, to heart palpitations and irregular heartbeats. Starting an exercise session with an aerobic warm-up and moving up to higher exercise levels reduces initial stress to muscles, including the heart, according to Duane Knudson, kinesiology professor at California State University, Chico.
Palpitations, irregular heartbeat and the feeling of skipping a heartbeat may be caused by a variety of factors, including congenital defects, stress, fear and anxiety. Drinking too much coffee or other caffeinated drinks can also create arrhythmias. Prescription and diet pills may create the feeling of skipped heart beats or palpitations. Diseases related to the sensation include heart valve conditions such as mitral valve prolapse, anemia, low levels of iron in the body and conditions involving an overactive thyroid. Only a medical professional can determine the exact cause of heart arrhythmia or palpitations.
Diagnosis and Treatment
Diagnosis of heartbeat irregularities include a medical history, physical exam and an electrocardiogram, a procedure that tracks the heartbeat using a specially designed device. If an irregularity is found, you may be asked to wear a heart monitor to track your heartbeat over several days to determine any events linked to irregularities. The doctor may conduct an exercise stress test using a treadmill to determine the oxygen level during specific types of activities. The doctor also looks at your blood pressure, cholesterol levels and lungs during the examination. Depending on the diagnosis, care may involve treatment of any disease discovered and recommendations for changes in your workout program.
- MedlinePlus; Heart Palpitations; David Zieve and David R. Eltz; December 2010
- MayoClinic.com; What's a Normal Resting Heart Rate? Edward R. Laskowski; September 2010
- "The New York Times"; Stretching: The Truth; Gretchen Reynolds; October 2008
- American Heart Association: Exercise Stress Test
- American Heart Association: Premature Contractions
- American Heart Association: Arrhythmias and Congenital Defects
- American Heart Association: Physical Activity
- National Heart, Lung & Blood Institute; What is Stress Testing?; June, 2009