Palpitations or heart attack

Palpitations or heart attack


Hi. Paul Zollinger Read. I’m the Chief Medical
Officer for Bupa. And I want to talk to you today about palpitations and how you know
the difference between that and the symptoms of a heart attack.
Now, palpitations are really common. I’ve had them off and on for most of my life. And
it generally appears as a fluttering in the chest, just about here. A bit like a sort
of butterfly in there. Often last thing at night when you’re sitting quietly in bed you
feel this and then there’s suddenly a (gasp) bit of a pause and a thump. And what that
is, is there’s a pause in the pulse and then a big pulse after that. And that’s entirely
normal. Occasionally it’s associated with diseases such as the thyroid gland. But rarely.
And, occasionally, with drinking too much caffeine, so too much coffee.
And you may get no symptoms of this. But, you get an irregular pulse. So what’s important
is every now and then to check your pulse. Is it regular? If it’s irregular, then it’s
sensible to see your doctor. Because what this is, is the top bit of the heart, the
atria, are beating irregularly. A heartbeat starts when an electrical impulse
is produced by the sinus node. This causes the atria, the top of the heart, to contract
pushing blood into the lower part which is called the ventricles. The electrical impulse
then makes the ventricles contract, pushing the blood out and around your body.
Now, a heart attack. A heart attack is very different. Usually it comes on as a sudden
central chest pain, and stops you in your tracks. It may be a tightness around the chest.
Maybe in the jaw you get an aching or in the left hand or sometimes in the stomach.
Now, anything like that, you immediately call the emergency services because what a heart
attack is, is that those arteries in the heart have become blocked. But nowadays we have
some really amazing treatment that can unblock it if we get to you quick enough.
A surgeon can thread a thin, flexible tube called a catheter through an artery in your
groin and up to the blocked artery in your heart. A guide wire with a small balloon and
wire mesh tube called a stent is then fed up along the catheter and into the place where
the narrowing is. As you can see from our animation, the balloon
will gently then be inflated, squashing the fatty material that’s blocking the artery
allowing blood to get through much more easily. The stent is then left in place, the balloon;
the guide wire and the catheter are removed. Occasionally, the stent will be coated with
a medicine to help reduce the chances of your artery narrowing again.
So, if you have a thumping in your chest, it’s very unlikely to be anything serious
but go and see the doctor and seek reassurance.