It's something like listening to Trance. A genre of chest thumping music, which maintains a tempo of 125 beats per minute steadily. Imagine when your heart beats like that continuously albeit for a minute or so. The inevitable conclusion, obviously, is that something is wrong with the heart.

Increased heartbeat is natural when someone is excited, frightened, anxious or exercising. The moment anxiety wears off or the person takes rest, heart beat returns to normal. But what if, it starts beating faster and faster for no apparent reason? Just like the steady beat in Trance music!

Modern living

Well! That does happen to many people and they call it palpitation, a condition which is being reported widely among youngsters and the elderly alike, thanks a variety of reasons, mostly attributed to the ways of modern living. It's not uncommon nowadays to hear about someone being rushed to hospital with the complaint of palpitation.

To put it simply, the erratic behaviour of the most vital organ could be due to a coronary blockage or the heart's intricate electrical system going haywire. The other causative reasons could be the heart being unable to pump blood with normal pressure, to compensate which the beat is increased, or endocrine causes like thyroid disturbances or even anaemic conditions too can trigger bouts of palpitations.

Cardiac arrest

A coronary blockage or a clot starves part of the heart of oxygenated blood damaging the heart muscle itself and it could lead to a heart attack, which could be lethal if not treated in time. (A cardiac arrest is different from a heart attack. Cardiac arrest, which could affect a healthy heart, simply means the heart suddenly stops pumping blood properly either due to heart's electrical system getting scrambled or for any other reason too).

Cardiologists say mostly people do not report palpitations as the episodes last for a few minutes. While there could be some benign inexplicable reasons causing palpitations, its better to undergo the coronary diagnostic tests.

“Having a block in the vessel is no big deal nowadays. We can treat them effectively, if only we know the condition of the heart. Sadly, people rush to hospital only when the situation worsens', rues Dr. Pramod Kumar Kuchulakanti, an interventional cardiologist in Yashoda Hospital. Not all people suffering from palpitations have clots in their vessels. Simply, heart's electrical system could have some problems, he explains.

SA Node

So what causes the heart beat? Heart contracts and expands on stimulation due to an electric impulse which is generated by a Sinus Atrial Node (SA Node). This impulse travels in a pre-determined path and ends up at the Atrio Ventricular Node (AV Node) and then to the Bundles and lands at the ventricles causing the heart to contract or expand. This activity continues ceaselessly as long as one is alive.

This SA Node controls the rate variations. For example, when you begin your morning exercise the SA Node generates more impulses. Let's say if you jog for 30 minutes the heart beat could reach 150 times a minute. Your anxiety levels (or perhaps during a job interview or when an elder sees you smoking), could force the SA Node to generate more electric impulses. When you sleep, the same node would reduce quantum of impulses and reduce the heart beat. These impulses are not randomly transmitted to the heart muscle. But they pass through a regulator called AV Node. This is something like a traffic light at a junction to regulate the movement of vehicles or impulses in this case.

Cardiologists are unable to pinpoint the reasons, but they say sometimes these electric impulses travel on a bypass tract unregulated without taking the normal route from SA Node to AV Node. When the unregulated impulses reach the muscle directly, heart beats faster. In such cases, specialists use small dose of radio frequency energy to burn the abnormal route forcing the impulses to use the original route.

Many causes

Causes for palpitations could be many. But if you see someone falling unconscious while complaining of palpitations, you must shift the patient to a hospital immediately. Falling unconscious means, the heart is beat faster without it actually pumping blood. That means there is diminished supply of oxygenated blood to the brain. Brain is like a hard drive which conks out when it starved of good blood. And when it conks out, it could be lethal. So the moral is that if you feel your heart is beating faster, it's better to consult a cardiologist and undergo basic diagnostic tests.