published Thursday, July 19th, 2012

Ask a Doctor: Could a heart flutter be a warning sign of a stroke or heart attack?

Q: My mother has mentioned feeling her heart flutter occasionally. Could this be a warning sign of a stroke or heart attack?

A: Heart fluttering or palpitations are the sensation of an irregular heart rhythm or the sudden onset of a rapid heartbeat. Many of us experience this sometime in our lives, and it can cause dizziness, fatigue and even chest discomfort. Some-times, the palpita-tions are more sustained, lasting for several minutes, hours or even days. Atrial fibrillation is an example of this type of rhythm problem. It's a common problem, affecting more than 2 million people in the United States. Most often, a fluttering heartbeat is not dangerous or life-threatening. It can be associated with more serious conditions such as cardiac arrest or early heart attack symptoms, but this is rare. However, atrial fibrillation is the most common cause of strokes in patients over 65 years of age. If you experience flutters, it is best to check with your doctor to try to find the source of these symptoms and see if some form of treatment is needed.

-- Dr. Gregg Shander, Chattanooga Heart Institute at Memorial; member, Chattanooga Hamilton County Medical Society

Readers: To submit a question for a medical doctor, email it to Clint Cooper at ccooper@timesfreepress.com. See this space each week for answers.

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