Your doctor will want to find out whether your palpitations are harmless or related to a heart problem. To do this, your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history, perform a physical exam, and order several basic tests, including:
- Echocardiogram is a non-invasive test using ultrasound (sound waves) and a device called a transducer—which is placed on the surface of the chest—to create a moving picture of the heart. It shows the size and shape of the heart chambers and problems with pumping function.
- Electrocardiogram is a simple non-invasive test that can be done in the doctor’s office using small adhesive pads called electrodes that are placed on the arms, legs, and chest. These electrodes are connected to a machine that detects and prints out the heart's electrical impulses, giving a 10-second snapshot of what the heart is doing right at that moment. It also reveals signs of a past or recent heart attack.
- Holter heart monitor is a portable device worn by a patient to give a detailed analysis of the heart’s electrical activity over a period of 24 hours (1 day). For this non-invasive test, which is done at home, 4 or 5 adhesive electrodes are placed on the chest and connected to an electrical recording device that is usually worn on the belt or on a neck/shoulder strap. This device records every heartbeat for the duration of the time that it’s worn.
- Trans-telephonic heart monitor (“TTM” or “looping heart monitor”) is another similar non-invasive test that is done at home, usually over 7 to 30 days. During this test, 3 or 4 adhesive electrodes are placed on the patient’s chest and connected to a small device worn on the belt or around the neck. This device takes short electrical recordings whenever a button is pressed to indicate patient symptoms, and also whenever the device automatically detects an abnormality in the heart rhythm. The electrical recordings are wirelessly sent to the doctor’s office using a transmission device that is plugged into the wall as part of the TTM system.
- Implantable heart monitor (“implantable loop recorder”) is a tiny, toothpick-sized device that is inserted under the skin in the center of the chest. This device is used when arrhythmias occur rarely and are not able to be detected on an EKG, 24-hour Holter or with a 30-day monitor. It is especially helpful when trying to determine whether an arrhythmia is responsible for a stroke or fainting spells. The implanted heart monitor communicates with a transmitter that is plugged into the wall, and sends electrical recordings to the doctor’s office whenever an arrhythmia is detected.