What does it feel like when your heart skips a beat?
Consider the following situations:
You’ve just stepped off the treadmill from a short morning workout. Your heart rate is up, but you’ve been monitoring it while you exercise and it’s in the right zone for a decent cardiac workout. As you take a drink of water, you start to feel uncomfortable. You feel a slight twinge in your chest, and notice that it feels as though your heart is beating irregularly. After a short pause, your heart will start beating normally again following a particularly forceful heartbeat.
You’re finally ready to go to sleep. You’ve brushed your teeth, put on your pajamas, and slid under your blanket. As you start to fall asleep, you start to notice your heart beating more strongly. After a few minutes, your heart seems to pause for a second before a hard thump. Afterward, it feels like your heart is racing briefly until it finally slows down and you’re able to finally get to sleep.
Did it really skip a beat?
In almost every case, your heart does not actually skip a beat. This sensation is actually caused by an extra, incomplete heartbeat in between two regular heartbeats.
This phenomenon is known as a premature ventricular contraction, or PVC. During a normal heartbeat, the sinus node located in the heart’s atrium produces an electrical impulse which causes the heart to contract. Premature ventricular contractions are inappropriate heartbeats which are electrically triggered in the heart’s ventricles.
These premature contractions of the heart can be thought of as an extra beat in between two regular heartbeats. The PVC is then followed by a brief pause, which allows the heart to fill with more blood than usual. In order to than pump that extra blood out, the normal heartbeat following the PVC is more forceful than usual, which can cause an uncomfortable sensation in your chest. In summary the sequence of events is as follows: normal heartbeat-PVC- brief pause- more forceful normal heartbeat. This pattern can then repeat, or your heart rhythm will return to normal.
What causes skipped beats?
Skipped beats, or PVCs, can be triggered by a number of different situations or conditions.
PVCs are commonly caused by conditions or situations that increase circulating adrenaline levels in your body. For example, consuming alcohol, or drugs that are stimulants can trigger heart palpitations. Strenuous exercise and strong emotions including anxiety and panic can also trigger heart palpitations.
Some skipped beats sensations occur following large meals, as the increase in blood sugar can result in an over-production of insulin, which, in turn, can trigger an adrenaline release as well. You can learn more about heart palpitations after eating in our guide.
In rare cases PVCs can be associated with heart disease or structural abnormalities of the heart.
Is my heart skipping a beat dangerous?
When you first notice that your heart feels like it is skipping beats or if your palpitations change it frequency or intensity, it is important to consult your doctor. While PVCs and heart palpitations in healthy, structurally normal hearts are generally considered to be benign, you must confirm that what you are experiencing is in fact harmless. Once you have determined the cause or significance of your heart feeling like it is skipping beats, you can begin trying to manage or stop those sensations.
Be sure to check out our complete guide to heart palpitations, with much more information on symptoms, diagnosis and how to stop palpitations.