Palpitations and menopause

Virtually everyone has experienced the sensation of feeling their heart flutter, race or thud. It often passes after a few moments and we go back to being blissfully unaware of our heart doing it’s amazing work, beating 100,000 times day after day.

During menopause, these heart sensations (which can be felt in the neck, throat or chest) become more noticeable and start to happen more frequently. Sometimes it may feel like a missed beat or an extra beat and this can be an unnerving experience. These sensations may be palpitations or ectopic beats and although they are most often harmless, it is best to get medical advice to rule out any underlying causes.

I hope that by sharing my experience it will raise awareness and give a little reassurance to others. I had no idea there was any connection between menopause and ectopic beats where the electrical signal telling the heart to beat goes out of sync giving the sensation of a ‘missed beat,’ when in fact there’s an extra beat.

I was in my early 40s and unaware I was perimenopausal, I wasn’t having hot flushes, but I was suffering with horrendous insomnia. I started to notice this feeling of my heart missing beats more frequently but I was fit, healthy and busy so I didn’t think about seeing a doctor.

Then one evening the missed beats became very pronounced and frequent making me feel lightheaded and dizzy. We had a blood pressure monitor (as I have low blood pressure and was keeping a diary of my readings), which also gives your heart rate. I strapped it on and the alarm sounded saying my heart rate was abnormal and couldn’t be read.

Another hour went by and I was starting to feel anxious. There was no NHS 111 helpline then and so with great reluctance I decided I would have to go to A&E where my anxiety went through the roof!

They tried not one or two but three ECG machines before getting a reading – at first saying the machine couldn’t be working properly and then looking at my trace and deciding to admit me to a ward. They said the doctor was very busy and would come and see me, but no one came for 12 hours – the longest night of my life.

Eventually the doctor did his rounds and discharged me saying I must see my GP and arrange a 48 hour heart monitor – my heart was doing somersaults but I didn’t know why

At the doctor’s surgery, they had to try two ECG machines as they just didn’t seem to work on me. By now I felt as if I must have this alien force field of electricity that was causing their monitors to fail!

The GP looked at the trace and said it could be Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome that causes the heart to beat abnormally fast. None of this was doing my heart any good…

I was referred to a consultant and wore a heart rate monitor for 48 hours, they also did an ultrasound of my heart and I was so relieved when he said there was nothing wrong. He reviewed the trace and said there was no WPW syndrome and that the ECG must have been faulty.

He explained all about ectopic beats and gave me reassurance I had a healthy heart, albeit with some strange ECG results. It was a throw away comment as I was leaving that he said,  “Of course ectopic beats are far more common during menopause due to the disruption of your hormones. You’ll probably find these will reduce over time.”

These ectopic beats lasted for years but it really helped to know there was nothing wrong with my heart and I could just try to ignore them. It was only when my sleep improved that my heart seemed to settle down too. I wish I’d had the knowledge then that I have now as I should have been prescribed HRT especially at such a young age, but the flawed research connecting HRT to breast cancer meant I was one of the many thousands of women who were wrongly advised and suffered unnecessarily.

Make sure you are menopause aware – knowledge is power – you can download our symptom checker here.

It’s really important to get any heart irregularities checked out – and I certainly wouldn’t suggest you overlook anything just because it might be connected to menopause. But it does help to know about palpitations / ectopic beats and what the triggers or causes are:

  • lack of sleep
  • stress or anxiety
  • dehydration
  • menopause
  • pregnancy
  • hot flushes
  • low potassium levels
  • coffee
  • alcohol
  • smoking
  • some medications

 

There’s some really helpful information here from the British Heart Foundation about palpitations and ectopic beats and when you should see your GP https://www.bhf.org.uk/informationsupport/conditions/palpitations

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