You are here

Videos & Podcasts

Heart flutters common in women

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (Feb. 1, 2013) — Women are wired different from men, so it should come as no surprise that doctors at Saint Luke’s Mid America Heart Institute see a lot of female patients with heart flutters, skips, and palpitations. These flutters can range from bothersome to terrifying, but aren’t usually serious.

Cardiologist Tracy Stevens, M.D., medical director of Saint Luke’s Muriel I. Kauffman Women’s Heart Center, says symptoms may worsen with stress, use of caffeine, alcohol, decongestants, inhalers, sleep aids, or weight loss medications. In cases like these, the pulse rate increases due to adrenalin. Some palpitations are caused by medical disorders like uncontrolled high blood pressure, anemia, thyroid abnormalities, electrolyte imbalances, and sleep apnea.

Hormonal cycles in women or changes in hormonal therapy may be associated with heart skips or flutters, as well as chest pain.

“Though these skips and flutters are likely to be benign and only require reassurance, a complete history must be obtained and a cardiovascular examination performed to determine whether structural or electrical circuit abnormalities are the cause of the disorder,” said Dr. Stevens.

Assessment would involve a history and physical, and may also include a blood test, electrocardiogram, monitoring to detect changes in rhythm, and a chest X-ray or echocardiogram.

Treatment depends on the cause, and many heart palpitations often go away on their own. If not, strategies might include stress-reduction therapy, avoiding certain foods, medications, or supplements. Medications like beta-blockers or calcium channel blockers may alleviate symptoms. Some patients notice a decrease in symptoms when taking omega-3 fish oil, said Dr. Stevens.

For some women, more aggressive therapy is required. Hulay Jallow of Olathe, Kan., began experiencing rapid heart beats in her ‘40s. After a referral to Dr. Stevens, it was discovered that Jallow has an extra electrical circuit in her heart, causing her rapid heartbeats. She opted for radiofrequency ablation, a procedure performed in the electrophysiology lab and used for many types of arrhythmias. A catheter is inserted into a specific area of the heart and an electrode is guided through the catheter to small areas of the heart muscle that cause the abnormal heart rhythm. This radio wave energy "disconnects" the source of the abnormal rhythm from the rest of the heart and can offer symptom relief.

In Jallow’s case, her episodes have abated and she has peace of mind knowing that her disorder has been addressed. Now she’s an advocate for other women. Her advice? “Be proactive. If you have symptoms, do your research and have it checked out.”

Are you at risk? Take a heart assessment.

Learn more about Saint Luke's women's heart care.