Chest Pain / Heart Conditions

Chest Pain and Heart Conditions

Heart Palpitations

Palpitations are rapid, thumping or fluttering feelings that people experience in their chest. They may be on the left-hand side or the middle of the chest. Normally we are not aware of our heart beating. The term 'palpitations' is used when we are aware of our heart beating. Some people say their heart feels like it's racing; others say their chest hurts, thumps or flutters. Usually this sensation is caused by a heart rate that is faster than usual for your age, gender and level of fitness. Occasionally, the feeling is due to an abnormal heart rhythm.

 Palpitations may be alarming, but in most cases they are harmless and not a sign of any problem with your heart. Palpitations that are severe or don't settle quickly may need urgent medical attention.

When to see a doctor or nurse

  • If you have palpitations that do not go away quickly (within a few minutes).
  • If you have any chest pain with palpitations.
  • If you have severe breathlessness with palpitations.
  • If you pass out, or feel as if you are going to pass out, or feel dizzy.
  • If you have palpitations and have had heart problems in the past.
  • If you have palpitations which began as you were exercising.
  • If you start to experience palpitations more often, or if they get worse

 Possible causes

  • When you have overexerted yourself, feel nervous, anxious or excited.
  • Smoking
  • Consuming large amounts of caffeine
  • Recreational drugs.
  • Panic attacks - If you experience palpitations regularly with a feeling of anxiety, stress and panic, you may be experiencing panic attacks.
  • Medication - palpitations can be a side effect of some types of medicine.
  • Hormone changes during a woman's period can cause palpitations.
  • Medical conditions such as: -heart rhythm problem, overactive thyroid, low blood sugar, anaemia, low blood pressure, fever or dehydration (not enough fluid in the body).

Treatment

The treatment will depend on what is causing your palpitations, however you can make some lifestyle changes:

  • Reduce your stress levels by relaxation, deep breathing exercises and moderate the level of exercise.
  • Reduce your intake of coffee or energy drinks.
  • Avoid using recreational drugs.

 Heart Attack (myocardial infarction)

A heart attack is when the supply of blood to the heart is suddenly blocked, usually by a blood clot.  If left untreated, the muscles of the heart will begin to die. The medical term for a heart attack is myocardial infarction.  Most heart attacks occur in people who are over 45 years of age.

The use of stimulant drugs such as cocaine, amphetamines (speed) and methamphetamine (crystal meth) increases the risk of heart attacks. These drugs can cause the arteries around the heart to narrow, reducing blood flow to the heart muscle.

Heart attacks from the use of cocaine are one of the most common causes of sudden death in young people.

Symptoms of a heart attack include:

  • chest pain: the chest can feel like it is being pressed or squeezed by a heavy object, and the pain can radiate from the chest to the jaw, neck, arms and back
  • shortness of breath
  • overwhelming feeling of anxiety

Dial 999 immediately if you suspect that you or someone you know is having a heart attack.

Preventing a heart attack

The five main risk factors that can lead to a heart attack are:

  • smoking
  • not getting enough exercise (physical inactivity)
  • high blood pressure
  • being overweight or obese
  • high blood cholesterol levels
  • using stimulant drugs

To reduce your risk of having a heart attack, you may need to make some changes to your lifestyle, have your blood pressure and blood cholesterol checked.

Sudden cardiac death

Sudden cardiac death is a natural unexpected death from a cardiac arrest (the heart stopping), and usually it occurs during exercise. It is very rare.

Usually it is caused by either an inherited heart condition or cardiovascular disease (a heart attack) even if the person is physically fit. 

It is important to remember that sudden cardiac death is extremely rare, but if you are concerned, please speak to your doctor. This is especially important if you have a family history of cardiac problems or unexplained collapses. Often, there are no preceding symptoms but there does appear to be a link in some athletes who experience fainting or near fainting during exercise. If this is the case or you are concerned please see your doctor for advice. 

More information

Overview of heart palpitations

Heart Attack (myocardial infarction)

Heart attack when you are young