Irregular heartbeat: 5 symptoms you should never ignore

Posted on 2 June 2023

When your heart skips a beat” it may sound romantic, but it could be a sign you need a checkup. Here are symptoms to look out for.

Your heart is the ultimate pump. Day after day, its regular rhythm ensures all parts of the body receive the oxygenated blood you need to function. Most of the time that pump keeps going without any problems but, every so often, there may be a blip.

Identifying the problem

Dr Mohamed Khan, a physician specialising in internal medicine at Mediclinic Newcastle, says these may have a variety of causes. Your doctor will be able to identify where the problem lies and set out a treatment path.

Never ignore these symptoms:


1. Trouble breathing

This could take many forms; for some it presents as hyperventilation, for others as shortness of breath. It may also be caused by a wide spectrum of issues, from anxiety to lung disease. “Your first step when experiencing such a symptom is to consult your doctor. They will be able to tell you what to do next,” Dr Khan advises.

2. Palpitations

This strange sensation is an awareness of your heartbeat as particularly rapid or especially forceful. “Of course, there are certain situations when you can expect to be aware of your heartbeat, such as during exercise, pregnancy, or if you’re particularly emotional. However, if this is sustained throughout the course of the day, it may be a sign of cardiac problems, such as arrhythmia or structural heart issues.”Be aware, too, that substances such as caffeine, energy drinks, alcohol, nicotine, and certain medications can cause palpitations. You might also experience this sensation if you stop taking beta-blockers, which slow the heart rate.

3. Swollen feet

Your heart pumps oxygenated blood around the body. If that pump slows for any reason, fluid tends to collect – usually around your feet because of the force of gravity. However, fluid may also cause swelling in the hands, legs, or around the belly. “Fluid collecting in the chest is a sign of pulmonary oedema, which may indicate heart failure,” he warns. You should also consult a doctor if you have swelling in both feet, as this indicates the problem isnt specific to one side of the body.” If the swelling is cyclical, don’t worry too much. In other words, if the swelling is due to water retention around the time of your menstrual cycle, or while on an aircraft, it tends to dissipate after a while.

4. Unusual tiredness

A sudden loss of oomphmay merit a trip to the doctor. Dr Khan explains that it’s normal to feel a little fatigued after exertion, but if this vastly different to your usual energy levels, it may be because your heart is struggling to circulate the oxygenated blood that keeps you alert and awake.

5. Night time disturbances

Orthopnoea (breathlessness when lying down) and dyspnoea (shortness of breath) are both conditions that arise when your heart is unable to pump blood properly. This results in the accumulation of fluid in your chest when you are lying down. It may cause a sudden, severe shortness of breath that shock you out of your sleep.

It may not be your heart

While many of these health issues may be caused by heart problems, it is also possible that another organ is at fault. Your Mediclinic healthcare professional will be able to grade the severity of the issue and rule out any other causes.

Published in Cardiology

In the interest of our patients, in accordance with SA law and our commitment to expertise, Mediclinic cannot subscribe to the practice of online diagnosis. Please consult a medical professional for specific medical advice. If you have any major concerns, please see your doctor for an assessment. If you have any cause for concern, your GP will be able to direct you to the appropriate specialists.