Irregular heartbeat is a common symptom experienced by women during the menopausal transition. This cardiovascular phenomenon is often prompted by changes in estrogen levels, which occur naturally as a woman approaches menopause.
Pulse: rhythmic contraction and expansion of the arteries with each heartbeat.
Tachycardia: fast or irregular heartbeat; over 100 beats per minute.
Bradycardia: unusually slow heart rate.
Extrasystole: occasional extra heartbeat.
Arrhythmia: abnormal heart rhythm (not always present with irregular heartbeat).
Enhanced cardiac awareness: Heart feels like it is pounding but pulse is normal.
While irregular heartbeat is often normal during this time, episodes are nevertheless sudden and alarming for many women.
The first step towards managing irregular heartbeat during menopause is to learn about the symptoms, causes, and treatment of irregular heartbeat. Please read on to learn more about irregular heartbeat in menopause.
About Irregular Heartbeat
Irregular heartbeat, known medically as heart palpitations or tachycardia, occurs when the heart beats faster or more forcefully than normal. This often gives a woman an unpleasant awareness of her own heart beat. She may feel as if her heart has skipped a beat or is pounding out of her chest. Irregular heartbeat may or may not produce changes in heart rhythm.
Heart rhythm is coordinated by the heart's own electrical system. With each heartbeat, an electrical impulse begins at the sinus or sinoatrial (SA) node, the heart's natural pacemaker. The SA node produces the electrical impulses, which set the rate and rhythm of the heartbeat. The impulse spreads through the right and left atrial walls, causing them to contract and force blood into the ventricles. This impulse reaches the atrioventricular (AV) node, which acts as an electrical bridge carrying impulses from the atria to the ventricles after a brief delay.
From the AV node, the impulse travels through a fiber pathway that sends the impulse into the ventricles causing them to contract. The contraction forces blood out of the heart to the lungs and body and the semilunar valves close.
In most people, the average heart rate is 60 to 100 beats per minute. In some people, such as those who regularly exercise or take certain medications, a normal heart rate can be around 55 beats per minute (sometimes even less).
How to Measure Pulse
To measure a woman's heart rate at the wrist, put the index and middle finger on the inner side of the opposite wrist, just below the thumb base. Once the pulse is located, count the number of beats for one minute (or 30 seconds and double count). This will give a woman her heart beats per minute.
Please read on to learn more about the symptoms of irregular heartbeat.
An irregular heartbeat during menopause is typically experienced as a part of the body’s natural coping mechanism during hot flashes and night sweats. To avoid triggering hot flashes it is best to avoid alcohol, nicotine and caffeine. Women should also check their medications, because some can affect heart rate. It is also advisable to maintain a healthy diet and regular exercise regimen.
Symptoms of Irregular Heartbeat
Irregular heartbeat can occur at any time of day or night. Episodes may last anywhere from a few seconds to several minutes. The boxes below show the common symptoms of irregular heartbeat.
Once the symptoms of irregular heartbeat have been covered, the next step is learning about the hormonal and other causes of irregular heartbeat.
Symptoms of irregular heartbeat:
• Feeling the heart has skipped a beat
• Pounding in the chest, throat, or neck
• Heartbeat awareness
• Increased pulse rate
• Rapid heartbeat
Symptoms may also be accompanied by:
• Dizziness or lightheadedness
• Shortness of breath
• Chest discomfort
• Feelings of panic or anxiety
• Weakness or fatigue
Women who choose to eat dark chocolate can help improve the health of their hearts. Chocolate contains flavanols that have antioxidant properties that help clean the blood vessels and circulation of the blood to the heart and brain. Dark chocolate is better, as milk chocolate loses its health benefits during extra processing.
Causes of Irregular Heartbeat
Pre-menopausal women have a lower incidence of irregular heartbeat compared to same-aged men and peri- and post-menopausal women.
During menopause, the most common cause of irregular heartbeat is fluctuations in estrogen levels. While this is the most common explanation for irregular heartbeat during menopause, other medical conditions can also cause or contribute to irregular heartbeat. It is important to understand all of these possible causes of irregular heartbeat.
Recent advances in cardiovascular medicine have helped experts to understand the significant role of estrogen in heart function. As a woman approaches menopause, the levels of estrogen produced by her endocrine system fluctuate and eventually decline, which can have a significant effect on her cardiovascular system.
Estrogen and the Cardiovascular System:
Estrogen has a proven effect on the:
• Metabolism and disposition of cholesterol
• Plasma levels of high and low density lipoproteins (H/LDL).
• Smooth muscle cell proliferation in arterial wall.
• Stimulates widening and inhibits constriction of coronary arteries.
• Modulates autonomic nervous system, which works to regulate heartbeat.
For example, diminished estrogen levels can result in the overstimulation of the sympathetic autonomic nervous system, which can cause irregular heartbeat and heart palpitations.
Studies have found that declining levels in estrogen during perimenopause are correlated with irregular heartbeats, increased palpitation frequency, and non-threatening arrhythmias.
Although changes in estrogen are the most common cause of irregular heartbeat during menopause, other medical conditions and medications can also cause or contribute to irregular heartbeat. While these possible causes are numerous, some of the more common are described below.
Medical Causes of Irregular HeartBeat
• Overactive thyroid
• Fever, anemia
• Low levels of oxygen in the blood
• Certain medications
• Heart arrhythmia
• Heart disease
• Diet Pills
Though irregular heartbeat is often a normal part of the menopausal transition, there are cases where this symptom might indicate a more serious health condition.
Please read on to learn about when to contact a doctor about irregular heartbeat.
Women over 50 are at a greater risk of different illnesses and health complications, such as osteoporosis, diabetes, high cholesterol and heart disease. To stay healthy after menopause, women should have regular checkups with their doctors to control their weight, and keep healthy lifestyle habits like regular exercise and a healthy diet full of fiber, leafy greens and calcium; and low on Trans fats and cholesterol.
When to Call a Doctor
Cardiovascular Tests For Irregular HeartBeat:
• Ambulatory Monitor
• Stress Test
• Electrophysiology Test
• Head Upright Tilt Test
Irregular heartbeat may be cause for concern if experienced in addition to other symptoms. Women who experience irregular heartbeat accompanied by a loss of consciousness, shortness of breath, chest pain, unexplained sweating, or dizziness should seek immediate medical attention. A pulse over 100 beats per minute in the absence of anxiety, fever, or exercise should be discussed with a health care professional.
Experts also recommend that a doctor be consulted in the following cases:
• New or different heart palpitations are experienced.
• If Extra heart beats, over six per minute or coming in clusters of three or more, are felt.
• Risk factors of heart disease are present (diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol).
For women who experience irregular heartbeat for the first time, it is a good idea to speak with a health care professional to rule out any serious conditions. Please read on to learn more about irregular heartbeat treatment options.
Irregular HeartBeat Treatment
Experts recommend keeping a record of irregular heartbeat frequency, duration, intensity, and time of onset. It is also wise to record your pulse during these episodes and how you are feeling at the time.
The type of treatment necessary to address irregular heartbeat will often depend on this underlying cause of this cardiovascular symptom. For menopausal women who are experiencing irregular heartbeat caused by changes in estrogen production, the best irregular heartbeat treatment is often a combination of lifestyle changes and natural remedies.
Lifestyle changes can help to reduce the incidence of irregular heartbeat during menopause. Reducing intake of caffeine can significantly reduce heart palpitations. Limiting consumption of stimulants, cigarettes, and alcohol can also treat irregular heartbeat. Practicing yoga, tai chi, breathing exercises, or other relaxation techniques can also reduce or prevent irregular heartbeat during menopause.
While these lifestyle changes can greatly reduce the incidence and intensity of irregular heartbeat, they are unable to get at the root cause of hormonal imbalance. Additionally, it can be difficult for the busy woman to integrate many major lifestyle changes into her daily routine. Fortunately, there are natural, non-invasive ways to successfully treat irregular heartbeat during menopause. Natural therapies are a safe, effective, and non-invasive method of treating irregular heartbeat and other symptoms of menopause. These are able to get at the root cause of hormonal imbalance without the risks posed by more invasive medical alternatives.
For women who do not find relief from a combination of lifestyle and natural treatments, medical options are available.
Click the following link to learn specific treatments for irregular heartbeat, which begin with lifestyle changes, move onto alternative medicines, and finally, if those options don't seem to help, drugs and surgery. The most effective treatments typically combine lifestyle changes and alternative medicines.
When a menopausal woman is stressed, whether physically, emotionally or both, the body suffers and makes her more susceptible to experiencing an irregular heartbeat. This is because high levels of cortisol cause the blood vessels to contract and the heart rate to increase. Women can avoid this by preventing hot flashes and adopting relaxation techniques like yoga.
- Hutchinson, Susan M.D. "The Stages of a Woman's Life: Menstruation, Pregnancy, Nursing, Perimenopause, Menopause." November 2007.
- Love, Susan M.D. Menopause and Hormone Book. New York: Three Rivers Press, 2003.
- BMJ Group. Menopause: What is it?" Patient Leaflet. 2007