Pregnancy is one of the happiest times in a woman’s life. It’s time, when the heart literally skips a bit because of excitement of meeting with the baby. The heart stops or beats harder, thus overshadowing happy days. After all, the future mother, unfortunately, can also get sick. The fact is that very often pregnant women suffer from violations of the rhythm of the heart, which is known as heart palpitations. So, are heart palpitations during pregnancy dangerous? Should the problem be treated?
Heart Palpitations: What Is It?
Palpitation is an abnormal heartbeat, which can be too frequent, slow or irregular. In some cases, palpitation remains unnoticed. At the same time, many people do feel it. The duration of episodes of palpitations can range from a few seconds to several hours, depending on the cause and circumstances accompanying their appearance.
Palpitation is a condition in which a person, who is in a state of rest or slow movement, feels a heavy, rapid, intermittent heartbeat or a combination of them. These symptoms can be caused by a change in heart rate or an increase in the effort required for the heart muscle contraction. Sometimes people suffering from heart palpitations have neither heart disease nor cardiac rhythm abnormalities. However, in most cases, palpitation is a consequence of a disturbance of the heart rhythm (for example, arrhythmia). It manifests itself as a delayed, accelerated or irregular heartbeat.
What Can Lead to Heart Palpitations during Pregnancy?
Cardiac diseases are one of the main factors of mortality of pregnant women. This is due to the inability of the compensatory function to cope with significant stresses on the body. Excessive load on the heart can lead to fatal outcomes, despite the high level of development of medicine. Pathologies of the cardiovascular system occupy the third place among the factors of female and infant mortality.
During pregnancy, there are normal physiological changes. Against the background of concomitant complications, these changes can provoke a heart disease in a future mother.
Women who had problems with the cardiovascular system even before pregnancy are more prone to heart diseases during pregnancy. In initially healthy pregnant women, cardiac pathologies can also develop against a background of toxicosis and maternal cardiomyopathy.
Here are some of the physiological changes that promote the development of cardiac anomalies in healthy women before pregnancy:
- increased blood flow (up to 30%),
- expansion of veins,
- increased heart rate,
- significant increase in weight,
- excessive physical activity,
- severe emotional stress.
What Are the Causes of Heart Palpitations?
There can be many reasons for palpitation of the heart. The most common are the following:
Heart abnormalities and diseases
Arrhythmia (violation of the heart rhythm) can be one of the causes. In most cases, palpitation and arrhythmia are harmless. However, sometimes a violation of the normal rhythm of the heart can indicate serious problems. Problems with the function of the heart valves can also be the cause of heart palpitations during pregnancy. Valves contribute to the passage of blood through the heart.
Abnormalities and diseases that are not related to the heart
Taking certain meds, herbal supplements and drugs can cause the heart to beat more often. Drugs that cause palpitation include inhalers for asthma and decongestants. Caffeine (contained in coffee, tea and carbonated drinks), alcohol and tobacco also cause heart palpitations during pregnancy. People with panic disorder, with fright or a panic attack, may feel that they are hearing the beating of their own heart. Some diseases and disorders, such as anemia and the thyroid disease, can also cause heart palpitations during pregnancy.
In some cases, the cause of the occurrence of palpitation cannot be established. To be more precise, this happens in about 1 out of 7 cases. It should be noted that almost all cases of palpitation of unidentified causes are harmless.
Keep in mind that not all causes of heart palpitations during pregnancy are dangerous. The following causes do not pose any threat:
- the heart reaction to the increase of the blood volume,
- anxiety and stress,
- reactions to certain food or drinks, especially those that contain caffeine,
- reaction to medications ( including cold or allergy meds).
More serious causes of heart palpitations during pregnancy include the following:
- problems with the thyroid gland,
- underlying heart damage from another life event or pregnancy,
- pulmonary hypertension,
- coronary artery disease,
- preeclampsia and other hypertensive disorders of pregnancy.
It should be noted that sometimes it may be hard to identify the cause of heart palpitations during pregnancy.
Many symptoms of heart problems occur during a normal pregnancy as well. That’s why it may be hard to find out whether the condition is caused by changes due to pregnancy or a sign of a disease.
Symptoms of Heart Palpitations during Pregnancy
Palpitation is defined as an irregular heartbeat. It can be felt as a single missed heartbeat, and as a repetitive, high frequency irregular heartbeat. Episodes of palpitation can occur regularly or occasionally. Sometimes patients complain of vibration in the chest, stuffiness in the chest and throat, shortness of breath, nausea and increased sweating. At a very high heart rate, a person’s blood pressure drops sharply, causing dizziness and a feeling of impending syncope. In severe cases, it may lead to fainting.
Heart palpitations during pregnancy can manifest themselves by different symptoms. Pregnant women may experience only one symptom or any combination of the following:
- a feeling of uneasiness,
- a feeling that the heart is pounding,
- a rapid heartbeat,
- a flopping feeling in the chest,
- a feeling that the heart skips a bit.
When Should One Visit a Doctor?
In general, a pregnant woman should attend her doctor regularly. The frequency of these visits depends on the term of pregnancy, the general health conditions of a woman and possible complications.
If heart palpitations during pregnancy occur more often between visits, become more intense, or last significantly longer, this is a reason for contacting the doctor.
If any of the following symptoms occur along with heart palpitations during pregnancy, immediately seek medical help:
- a bloody cough,
- an irregular pulse,
- troubles with breathing,
- pain in the chest,
- a rapid heart rate.
Do Heart Palpitations Require Treatment?
Even though heart palpitations during pregnancy are usually not dangerous, they still may require medical attention. That’s why it makes sense to consult a doctor if heart palpitations occur frequently.
Keep in mind that heart palpitations during pregnancy do not necessarily require treatment.
When symptoms are mild, doctors usually do not recommend treatment. Mostly, the palpitations disappear after the birth of the baby.
If symptoms are severe, doctors may prescribe special medication for regulating the heartbeat. Before prescribing the drugs, the doctor must assess the possible risks to the woman and the baby. The risks are higher during the first trimester. That’s why doctors usually don’t prescribe medications during this time.
If a woman has arrhythmia, a doctor can propose a special procedure to return the heart to its normal rhythm. This procedure is called cardioversion and it is considered to be safe during pregnancy.
How to Deal with Heart Palpitations During Pregnancy?
Treatment of heart palpitations during pregnancy depends on its cause. The medicines are prescribed only after evaluating their necessity. If the potential danger of the drug exceeds the benefit and negatively influences the baby, it is better to find a safer solution. However, in general, heart palpitations during pregnancy are mostly harmless and disappear on their own. In case, when the doctor finds no particular cause, no treatment is required. Taking care of certain factors (that trigger palpitation) will help to control heart palpitation during pregnancy.
Take care of the emotional issues
Stress, anxiety, and other emotional issues that take place throughout the period of pregnancy can be eased by practicing relaxation exercises, yoga, meditation, etc. Reading books, listening to the music, drawing, etc. can also help you to get rid of excessive tension and stress.
Identify the triggers
Apart from the common triggers, there may be some particular situations or actions that trigger palpitations. But this is very individual. Something that triggers palpitations in one person, may not have an effect on another one. Therefore, try to keep a personal diary. It will help to control what you eat, drink, or do which lead to heart palpitations. Eventually, you’ll see a pattern. Thus, you will understand what to avoid.
Avoid Substance that Trigger Heart Palpitations
There are certain substances that trigger heart palpitations during pregnancy. They include alcohol, caffeine, smoking and illegal drugs.
Dehydration can lead to palpitations. Therefore, stay well hydrated.
Be Careful with Medicines that Contain Stimulants
Some cough and cold medicines contain stimulants that can trigger heart palpitations during pregnancy. That is why it is better to avoid over the counter medicines throughout the course of pregnancy.
Activities that demand physical exertion
Even though physical activities are useful during pregnancy, it still makes sense to be careful with them. Avoid the activities that are above the moderate level (cardio). It is better to choose safer sport options during pregnancy.
Heart palpitations during pregnancy can be scary for a woman. But, it is not a reason to panic. Mostly, heart palpitations are harmless. Still, it is better not to ignore this symptom and consult your doctor.