What your heart rate is telling you
Your heart is one of the most important organs in your body. It pumps the blood that provides the body with oxygen and nutrients it needs to survive.
When your heart doesn’t beat properly, it can’t pump blood effectively.
Understanding your heart’s rhythm
Arrhythmia is the medical term for an abnormal heart rhythm. The electrical impulses may occur too fast, too slow, or irregularly.
Arrhythmias can occur in the upper chambers of the heart (atria) or in the lower chambers of the heart (ventricles) and can affect people of all ages.
What causes an arrhythmia?
Arrhythmias can be caused by:
- Sinus pacemaker problems - when the heart’s natural “sinus node” pacemaker fails or generates very slow electrical impulses.
- Conduction problems - where the sinus node electrical impulse is unable to conduct to the ventricles (also called “heart block”).
Symptoms to look out for
Some arrhythmias have no symptoms, while others have serious signs of illness. The following are relatively common arrhythmia symptoms:
- Premature or skipped beats.
- Rapid palpitations.
- Dizziness or lightheadedness.
- Shortness of breath or chest discomfort.
Being aware of your pulse is important because it may indicate an abnormal heart rate or rhythm.
What is a normal pulse?
Between 60 and 100 beats per minute is considered to be a normal pulse. However, there are many reasons why it might be slower or faster.
This could be because of your age, medications, caffeine, level of fitness, or any other illness, including heart conditions, stress and anxiety.
One of the easiest places to feel your pulse is on your wrist, just below your thumb. You can feel your pulse in other areas of your body as well, like the crease of your elbow, your groin, or behind your knee.
Try taking your pulse at different times throughout the day (before and after activities). It’s normal for your pulse rate to change during the day, depending on the activity you’re doing.
To get a baseline pulse and normal rhythm, the South African Arrhythmia Alliance suggests taking your resting pulse when you wake up in the morning and before you go to bed.
When should I seek advice?
- If your pulse seems to be racing some or most of the time and you are feeling unwell.
- If your pulse seems to be slow some or most of the time and you are feeling unwell.
- If your pulse feels irregular (“jumping around”), even if you do not feel unwell.
Everyone is different. Many people may have pulse rates over 100 beats/min (bpm) and less than 60 bpm. If you have a persistent heart rate above 120 bpm or below 40 bpm, visit your local clinic.
Where can I get more information regarding heart health and general wellness?
WoW! is a Healthy Lifestyles partnership initiative of the Western Cape Government and its valued partners. WoW! aims to enable us to make Healthy Lifestyle choices throughout our life course - from planning Pregnancy and Birth to Youth, Adult and Senior Years. Choices we make today about how we live (LIVE!), the types of food we eat and drink (EAT!), and how often we do physical activities (PLAY!), affect our future health.
Visit Western Cape Government Health’s WOW! Webpage at www.westerncape.gov.za/wow or contact the heart and stroke foundation at 021 447 6268, or call our Heart and Stroke Health Line on 0860 1 HEART (0860 1 43278).