Avoid excess alcohol and caffeine for heart health

Avoid excess alcohol and caffeine for heart health

Palpitations refer to the awareness of one's own heartbeat, which should normally not be discernable unless one is checking for a pulse, said Dr Reginald Liew, a senior consultant cardiologist at The Harley Street Clinic at Mount Elizabeth Novena and Gleneagles hospitals.

Patients often feel their hearts pounding more forcefully than usual, that it skips a beat, or describe a "fluttery" feeling - all of which count as palpitations.

They are not imagining it as many things can cause palpitations.

The condition may also be associated with shortness of breath, dizziness and tiredness. If the heartbeat is very fast, the heart cavity may be unable to fill up with blood effectively to be pumped out and this causes blood pressure to drop.

When less blood is pumped out of the heart with each heartbeat and insufficient blood goes to the brain, the person will feel dizzy or black out.

Dr Liew said palpitations may make patients feel so unwell that they need to stop whatever they are doing and lie down.

The unpredictable nature of palpitations and the lack of control over this symptom can be very unsettling, he added.

Palpitations can occur during periods of anxiety and stress, or be related to heart conditions.

A common one is atrial fibrillation, which is an irregular heartbeat that commonly affects elderly people and those with cardiovascular conditions such as high blood pressure, a previous heart attack or heart failure.

Other causes of heart palpitations are related to abnormal electrical connections in the heart that control the heart rhythm.

Dr Liew said treatment for palpitations is aimed at reducing the symptoms to improve patients' quality of life and preventing complications such as heart failure.

No food or herbal supplements have been proven to treat palpitations, he said, noting: "The active ingredients that may be beneficial are not clearly defined and patients can have varying responses to certain food or herbs."

He cautioned that these "natural agents" may increase some patients' risk of developing palpitations or put them at risk of liver toxicity.

At the same time, he did not rule out the possibility that some plant substances may have a direct effect on the heart and improve symptoms in some patients.

Dr Liew said he was not aware of any proper scientific research documenting the efficacy of longan aril on heart palpitations.

He said: "If longan is useful, its action may lie in its antioxidant effect. But we do not have enough evidence to recommend it as a treatment for patients with palpitations."

He said people who experience palpitations should see a doctor immediately if these are persistent, or if they have other cardiovascular risk factors, such as a previous heart attack or stroke, are aged above 50 and experience dizziness or blackouts.

In general, people should have a proper diet and regular exercise, which can also help in controlling cardiovascular risk factors such as high blood pressure and diabetes, he advised.

He cautioned against consuming alcohol or caffeine in excess.

"Alcohol can cause dilation of blood vessels and a reflex increase in heart rate. It can also directly affect the heart muscle, so drinking an excessive amount can weaken the heart.

"Caffeine can also directly affect the heart muscle and cause palpitations," he said.

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