Heart palpitations, which can feel like the heart is beating faster or harder than usual, fluttering, or “skipping beats,” are fairly common during pregnancy, and usually aren’t a sign of any trouble, though they can be scary, and it’s always a good idea to report new pregnancy symptoms to a healthcare provider. The exception to this rule is women who have a history of heart conditions – in this case, palpitations can be a sign of a serious condition, and should be closely monitored.
What causes it?
In pregnancy, the body’s blood-volume increases to help support the growing fetus, and this increase in blood means that the cardiac output, or the amount of blood the heart pumps per minute, increases 30 to 50% to keep up. For the cardiac output to increase, either the heart rate (the speed that the heart beats), the stroke volume (the amount of blood pumped with each beat), or both need to increase. This means the heart ends up working harder to keep up, especially in the second and third trimesters.
Arrhythmia, where the heart beats irregularly, or in an abnormal rhythm, is the most common heart complication during pregnancy, but palpitations aren’t always a sign of a problem, and can be a normal, non-harmful pregnancy symptom. Even so, it’s always a good idea to let your healthcare provider know about any new symptoms as they appear.
Women who have had heart conditions in the past should get in touch with a healthcare provider right away after experiencing palpitations.
Treatments for arrhythmia are similar to treatments given to non-pregnant patients, but since there is little research that has been done on the effects of most medications during pregnancy, healthcare providers may choose to monitor closely instead of prescribing medication right away for less clinically significant symptoms. If your healthcare provider does prescribe a medication, it’s because he or she has weighed the lack of information about the medication during pregnancy against the risk to the heart.
Even if you and your doctor have decided that your palpitations aren’t a sign of a problem, they can still be scary. Avoiding physically and mentally stressful situations and taking plenty of time to relax can help to limit palpitations in the future. Making sure to keep all prenatal appointments so that your symptoms are well-monitored, getting plenty of rest, sticking to a healthy weight and taking any medication you’ve been prescribed are also all important parts of heart health during pregnancy.
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- Peter J. Zimetbaum. “Overview of palpitations in adults.” “Supraventricular arrhythmias during pregnancy.” UpToDate. Wolters Kluwer, October 16 2016. Web.