Irregular heartbeats indicate heart rhythm problems, also called arrhythmias or dysrhythmias. These problems happen when the heart’s natural pacemaker, called the SA node, is no longer in control of the electrical impulses that cause your heart to pump. This disrupts the heart’s normal rhythm and makes it work less efficiently. People may experience arrhythmias as palpitations, a “fluttering” or “racing” heart, or skipped heartbeats.

Causes

Irregular heartbeats can result from a number of different conditions. Some of these are lack of oxygen to the heart (often caused by atherosclerosis), heart valve disease, or damage to the heart muscle.

Prevention

Adopting a heart-healthy lifestyle can help you prevent the atherosclerosis that can cause irregular heartbeats. Use these strategies:

  • Eat lots of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and choose healthier-fat sources of protein such as nuts and fish
  • Exercise regularly
  • Maintain a healthy weight and keep diabetes under control
  • Quit smoking
  • Limit your intake of alcohol
  • Limit your use of caffeine
  • Beware of stimulants used in cough and cold medications—some of these can contain ingredients that promote irregular heart rhythms
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