What Is An Irregular Pulse
An irregular pulse is when the heart doesn’t beat in a regular, steady rhythm. This is also called an irregular heart rate or an arrhythmia.
If your heart rate is irregular, you may notice that your pulse:
- seems irregular or is ‘jumping around
- is racing, even when you’re at rest
- seems unusually slow some or most of the time
- seems to pause, add, or miss a beat.
When To Contact A Medical Professional
If you have never had heart palpitations before, see your provider.
- Loss of alertness
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- You often feel extra heartbeats .
- You have risk factors for heart disease, such as high cholesterol, diabetes, or high blood pressure.
- You have new or different heart palpitations.
- Your pulse is more than 100 beats per minute .
- You have related symptoms, such as chest pain, shortness of breath, feeling faint, or loss of consciousness.
Staying Safe With An Arrhythmia
If you have an arrhythmia that affects your driving, you must tell the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency .
If your job involves working at height or with machinery that could be dangerous, you will need to stop work at least until your arrhythmia is diagnosed or you get treatment for your underlying condition. Get advice from your GP or cardiologist.
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Exercise And Heart Rate
Like any other muscle, your heart needs exercise to keep it fit and healthy. Regular exercise can help reduce your risk of heart disease and other health conditions, such as diabetes.
To keep your heart healthy, you should aim to do 150 minutes of low to moderate intensity exercise a week. If you have a heart condition, talk to your doctor about what exercise and target heart rates are safe for you.
One way to measure the intensity of your exercise is by using your heart rate. To exercise at a low to moderate intensity your heart rate should be at 50 to 70% of your approximate maximum heart rate.
The easiest way to get an approximate maximum heart rate is to calculate 220 your age. You then need to calculate 50 to 70% of your MHR.
For example, if you’re 40-years-old:
- your approximate maximum heart rate is: 220 40 = 180 beats per minute
- 50% of your MHR is 180 X 0.5 = 90 bpm
- 70% of your MHF is 180 X 0.7 = 126 bpm.
Alternatively, you can use our heart rate chart below to get a rough idea.
Remember if you’re on medications to slow your heart rate down, you may not be able to meet these upper heart rates and the aim should be to exercise at a rate that makes you lightly puff.
Normal Causes Of A Fluctuating Heart Rate
Your resting heart rate is when your heart is doing the least amount of work. That’s measured when you’re sleeping, sitting or lying down and feeling calm and relaxed. Things like your age, sex and physical fitness can affect your resting heart rate.
Plenty of everyday things cause heart rates to fluctuate. You can expect your pulse to change throughout the day as your heart adjusts to different energy needs.
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Changes In Heart Rhythms Are Usually Harmless
Our heart rate adapts to our bodys need for energy throughout the day, whether its for walking up the stairs or a bout of strenuous exercise. These tempo changes based on physical activity are perfectly normal.
Other common situations can trigger changes in heart rhythms too. Mild dehydration can cause the heart to beat more quickly thats the bodys way of trying to maintain the flow of blood when theres less available for every beat.
A change in medication, or an interaction between medications, can trigger a temporarily abnormal heartbeatanother reason to always share medication and supplement routines with your health care team. And while the resolution can be simple , its sometimes beyond our ability to understand why we feel a change in our heart rhythms or if its the symptom of a more urgent medical situation.
American Heart Association News Stories
American Heart Association News covers heart disease, stroke and related health issues. Not all views expressed in American Heart Association News stories reflect the official position of the American Heart Association. Statements, conclusions, accuracy and reliability of studies published in American Heart Association scientific journals or presented at American Heart Association scientific meetings are solely those of the study authors and do not necessarily reflect the American Heart Associations official guidance, policies or positions.
Copyright is owned or held by the American Heart Association, Inc., and all rights are reserved. Permission is granted, at no cost and without need for further request, for individuals, media outlets, and non-commercial education and awareness efforts to link to, quote, excerpt or reprint from these stories in any medium as long as no text is altered and proper attribution is made to American Heart Association News.
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How To Enable Irregular Rhythm Notifications
How Do I Measure My Resting Heart Rate
A heart rate sensor is the most accurate way to measure your RHR. Discover how to monitor your RHR when using this technology with our guide to measuring your resting heart rate.
Also known as your basal heart rate because it is your base measurement
If you dont have a heart rate sensor, you can try measuring it yourself by checking your pulse. You can choose between your carotid artery or your radial artery .
You should never use your thumb to take this measurement as it has its own pulse, which could cause you to miscount. Instead, place your index and third fingers on either your neck or wrist. Count the number of beats in 15 seconds and then times this number by four to calculate the beats per minute.
The American Heart Association recommends checking your RHR first thing in the morning before getting out of bed. The caffeine in your morning coffee or tea will cause heart palpitations, so make sure you measure your RHR before making your heart rate rise.
Dont attempt to measure your resting heart rate after exercise or a stressful event. Leave it an hour as your RHR is high after a workout or any strenuous activity. Allow your resting heart rate recovery time just like the rest of your body.
Want to work out max heart rate? Use our calculator.
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Treating Abnormal Heart Rhythms
The treatment for an arrhythmia depends on its cause. You may need to make lifestyle changes, like increasing your activity level or changing your diet . If you smoke, your doctor will help you stop smoking.
You might also require medication to control your abnormal heartbeat, as well as any secondary symptoms.
For serious abnormalities that dont go away with behavioral changes or medication, your doctor can recommend:
- cardiac catheterization to diagnose a heart problem
- catheter ablation to destroy tissue that causes abnormal rhythms
- cardioversion by medication or an electrical shock to the heart
- implantation of a pacemaker or cardioverter defibrillator
- surgery to correct an abnormality
What Does A Fluctuating Pulse Mean
Several factors, including your activity level, age, health and diet, can affect your pulse. Pulse rates fluctuate periodically depending on several factors, but an irregular pulse could indicate an underlying health problem. Check your pulse regularly, and if it frequently fluctuates, consult your physician.
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Medical Causes Of A Fluctuating Heart Rate
Medical issues Ã¢â¬â many of them easily treated Ã¢â¬â can also cause a fluctuating pulse, including:
Electrophysiological Testing And Mapping:
This is a process in which doctors connect multiple electrodes tipped catheters to various regions of your heart. This is done to see what is triggering and halting an Arrhythmia and which portion of the heart its originating from. This test helps doctors diagnose the nature of the irregular heartbeat, to understand its triggers and foresee situations that can simulate these conditions.
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When To Call Your Doctor
If youre on a beta blocker to decrease your heart rate or to control an abnormal rhythm , your doctor may ask you to monitor and log your heart rate. Keeping tabs on your heart rate can help your doctor determine whether to change the dosage or switch to a different medication.
If your pulse is very low or if you have frequent episodes of unexplained fast heart rates, especially if they cause you to feel weak or dizzy or faint, tell your doctor, who can decide if its an emergency. Your pulse is one tool to help get a picture of your health.
Don’t Bank On Heart Rate Accuracy From Your Fitness Tracker
Wrist-worn activity trackers such as Fitbit dont reliably assess heart rate, a new study finds.
While the devices may have some legitimate benefits, they shouldnt be used for medical purposes, researchers suggest.
Evaluating four wearable activity trackers from Fitbit, Basis and Mio, the researchers compared results to those from an electrocardiograph . They found results varied among the different models and were much less accurate during exercise than at rest.
These devices are probably good enough to inform consumers of general trends in their heart rate — high or low — its important to have more accurate information when physicians are relying on this data to make decisions on medications or other tests and treatments, said Dr. Mitesh Patel.
Patel is an assistant professor of medicine and health care management at the University of Pennsylvania. He wasnt involved in the study.
However, the studys lead author cautions against making too much of the discrepancies.
At any moment, the tracker could be off by a fair bit. But at most moments, it wont be, said Lisa Cadmus-Bertram, an assistant professor of kinesiology at the University of Wisconsin at Madison.
The heart-rate feature performed better at rest, she said. Theyre not as precise during exercise.
A 2014 survey by PricewaterhouseCoopers found that 20 percent of American adults owned a wearable activity tracker.
Again, the devices were least accurate during exercise.
In general, shes remains a fan.
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What Causes Heart Rate Fluctuations
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Slow Resting Heart Rates
A slow resting heart rate can mean different things, depending on the circumstances. For example, it sometimes suggests that a person has a healthier heart says Dr. Jason Wasfy at Massachusetts General Hospital Heart Center. In certain cases, a lower resting heart rate can mean a higher degree of physical fitness, which is associated with reduced rates of cardiac events like heart attacks.
In other cases, having a slow heart rate could signify something more serious it all depends on your activity level and age. Its normal for the elderly to have a lower than average resting heart rate, for example. So what if your resting heart rate is well below 60 bpm, but youre not an athlete or a senior?
According to the American Heart Association, this could suggest the presence of bradycardia when a persons heart rate is lower than it should be. Bradycardia doesnt always cause symptoms, but when it does, it can cause lightheadedness, weakness, confusion, and lack of energy when exercising. Having these symptoms in addition to a low heart rate may mean its time to seek medical advice.
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What To Expect At Your Office Visit
Your provider will examine you and ask questions about your medical history and symptoms.
You may be asked:
- Do you feel skipped or stopped beats?
- Does your heart rate feel slow or fast when you have the palpitations?
- Do you feel a racing, pounding, or fluttering?
- Is there a regular or irregular pattern to the unusual heartbeat sensations?
- Did the palpitations begin or end suddenly?
- When do the palpitations occur? In response to reminders of a traumatic event? When you are lying down and resting? When you change your body position? When you feel emotional?
- Do you have any other symptoms?
An electrocardiogram may be done.
If you go to an emergency room, you will be connected to a heart monitor. However, most people with palpitations do not need to go to an emergency room for treatment.
If your provider finds you have an abnormal heart rhythm, other tests may be done. This may include:
- Holter monitor for 24 hours, or another heart monitor for 2 weeks or longer
What Are The Types Of Arrhythmias
Arrhythmias are divided up by where they happen. If they start in the ventricles, or lower chambers of your heart, theyâre called ventricular. When they begin in the atria, or upper chambers, theyâre called supraventricular.
Doctors also group them by how they affect your resting heart rate. Bradycardia is a heart rate of fewer than 60 beats per minute. Tachycardia is more than 100 beats per minute.
Supraventricular arrhythmias include:
Ventricular arrhythmias include:
- Premature ventricular contractions . These are among the most common arrhythmias. They’re the “skipped heartbeat” that many of us feel sometimes.
- Ventricular tachycardia . This is a rapid heart rhythm starting from your heart’s lower chambers. Because your heart is beating too fast, it can’t fill with enough blood. This can be a serious arrhythmia, especially in people who have heart disease, and it may be linked to other symptoms.
- Ventricular fibrillation . This happens when your heart’s lower chambers quiver and can’t contract or pump blood to the rest of your body. Itâs a medical emergency that must be treated with CPR and defibrillation as soon as possible.
- Long QT syndrome. Your heartâs lower chambers take too long to contract and release. This may cause dangerous rhythm problems and death.
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How Your Heart Works
Your heart has a right side and a left side, separated by a wall. Each side has a small collecting chamber , which leads into a large pumping chamber . There are four chambers the left atrium and right atrium , and the left ventricle and right ventricle .
Normally, the upper chambers of your heart contract first and push blood into the lower chambers . The ventricles then contract the right ventricle pumping blood to your lungs and the left ventricle pumping blood to the rest of your body.
In a healthy heart, heartbeats are set off by tiny electrical signals that come from your hearts natural pacemaker a small area of your heart called the sinus node, located in the top of the right atrium. These signals travel rapidly throughout the atria to make sure that all the hearts muscle fibres contract at the same time, pushing blood into the ventricles.
These same electrical signals are passed on to the ventricles via the atrioventricular node and cause the ventricles to contract a short time later, after they have been filled with blood from the atria. This normal heart rhythm is called the sinus rhythm, because it is controlled by the sinus node.
Resting Heart Rate : Everything You Need To Know
Originally published July 6, 2016 3:58 pm, updated July 12, 2022
One of the easiest and maybe most effective ways to gauge your health and aerobic fitness level is via your resting heart rate . By measuring it regularly, you can see both your long-term progress and daily fluctuations, which can indicate whether youre fit for training, overtrained, or stressed. Heres everything you need to know to understand what affects RHR and why it matters.
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Why Is Heart Rate Variability A Good Thing
Your body has many systems and features that let it adapt to where you are and what youre doing. Your hearts variability reflects how adaptable your body can be. If your heart rate is highly variable, this is usually evidence that your body can adapt to many kinds of changes. People with high heart rate variability are usually less stressed and happier.
In general, low heart rate variability is considered a sign of current or future health problems because it shows your body is less resilient and struggles to handle changing situations. It’s also more common in people who have higher resting heart rates. Thats because when your heart is beating faster, theres less time between beats, reducing the opportunity for variability. This is often the case with conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure, heart arrhythmia, asthma, anxiety and depression.