Sign: you already have heart problems
If you already have a heart condition, any rhythm problems can be more serious. “A person with a weakened heart, or cardiomyopathy, may also be predisposed to have extra ventricular beats [from the bottom chambers of the heart],” explains Dr Lau. “When these heartbeats become frequent and fast, they are termed ‘ventricular tachycardia’, and in a weakened heart that may lead to cardiac arrest.”
Sign: you’ve had a heart attack
Heart muscle damaged from a heart attack will have scarring, and that can also predispose you to the extra contractions of ventricular tachycardia, says Dr Lau. Dr Zeitler says such patients should be treated immediately. “I would be more aggressive in making a diagnosis and treating with either medications, procedures, or with an implantable defibrillator,” she says. Dr Hodgson-Zingman says heart disease patients should be evaluated and monitored for rhythm abnormalities regularly.
Sign: You have other health issues
Besides prior heart disease, other health conditions could make palpitations more dangerous – and even though common heart rhythm problems like atrial fibrillation are generally not serious, in some people they can be. “If the patient has other risk factors such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and vascular conditions, their risk of stroke may be high because atrial fibrillation may lead to the formation of blood clots within the heart that can travel to the brain and cause a stroke,” Dr Lau says. If you have other health issues, alert your doctor if you’re having palpitations.