Family Health, Pregnancy

Heart Palpitations in Pregnancy: Go to the Hospital

The night before last, I learned an important lesson on why you shouldn’t always rely on Google for medical advice.

Kyle and I went to bed around 10PM on Sunday night. At 12:50AM, I woke up sweaty, out of breath, and with crazy heart palpitations. The heart thing is something that I’ve had a problem with for about four years now. When I was in law school, I started having random episodes of intense heart palpitations and dizziness that lasted between ten and thirty minutes. Eventually, I asked our family doctor about them and she diagnosed me with a slight heart murmur and told me to lay off the caffeine (which wasn’t too hard since I rarely drank it anyway).

I still get these episodes every now and then, but they don’t seem to come as often. Still, when I woke up I wasn’t all that worried about it. I got out of bed, drank a glass of water, put my feet up, and tried to slow down my breathing while I waited it out. I noticed that the baby was moving a whole bunch but my heart wasn’t slowing down, so I got on Google. It turns out that heart palpitations in pregnancy are pretty common. So common, in fact, that every website I ended up at (Mayo Clinic, etc.) said that the palpitations are caused by extra blood flow, every pregnant woman gets them, and they’re as common as heartburn or backaches.

Reassured, I went back to laying on the couch and tried to get my heart to chill out. After a while, I noticed that it had been about a half hour, but it wasn’t getting any better. I stood up to get back on Google and noticed that I was still pretty sweaty and now I was pretty dizzy. I read a few more Internet articles, but eventually I was having too much trouble being able to read the words on the screen, so I woke Kyle up. I also have fainting spells that come out of nowhere (my circulatory system is just awesome), so I figured it would be safer if he was awake in case I passed out and fell on the baby.

Kyle and I react to medical things differently. I have to pretty much be losing a leg before I’ll go to the doctor. Kyle would rather get every little thing checked out to make sure it’s nothing. So, when I woke him up and he felt my heart through my chest, he immediately put clothes on and instructed me to do the same. At this point, my heart had been racing for about an hour and I was starting to really not feel OK, so I grabbed some sweats and we made the ten minute drive to the emergency room.

I was positive that I was going to walk in and they might not even admit me. I figured they would say, “That happens. You’re pregnant. Get over yourself and go home.” However, when we walked in and I told her what was going on, the nurse checked my pulse, put me in a wheelchair, and took me to a room. Within five minutes, I had four other people joining us, was on oxygen, and was getting poked with needles in so many places that my elbows are one giant bruise. I was a little disoriented at this point, because I was still pretty dizzy, and everyone just kept saying things like, “She’s at 170…she’s at 180….we need to get a something drip before she somethings…”

NEW FACT (something I just learned, anyway): The average heart rate for a woman my age is 70 beats per minute. When you’re pregnant, your heart rate increases to 85-90bpm. If you’re exercising really hard, you can get up to 130bpm, but if you near 140 you’re supposed to stop.

Who knew?

Apparently I was not experiencing pregnancy-related heart palpitations. I was in a type of cardiac arrhythmia called atrial fibrillation, which means that half of my heart wasn’t really beating and the other half was overcompensating. As a result, my heart was beating way too fast and hard but it wasn’t actually pumping effectively and my pulse wasn’t steady at all. You know the heart rate line you see on monitors when you watch medical dramas on TV? Mine didn’t look like that. It looked like someone gave a crayon to a three year old and told him to go to town.


The biggest problem with atrial fibrillation is that it can lead to a stroke, so it’s not a small issue. It’s incredibly rare for someone my age to have episodes of atrial fibrillation, but it does happen…and I feel like at least one of those pregnancy articles online should have pointed that out! I ended up in the ER for about four hours while they did tons of tests and x-rays (terrifying while you’re pregnant, btw) as they tried to get my heart to slow down and find a rhythm.

Eventually it regulated and I was sent over to Labor and Delivery so that the baby could be monitored. I was really worried because I had gone quite a while without having a steady circulation of blood and I didn’t know how that was going to affect her. Luckily, she seemed completely fine and other than the fact that she kept kicking her heart rate monitor, her scan was totally normal. I saw my obstetrician yesterday afternoon and she confirmed that our daughter’s growth is right on schedule and everything looks good. I might need more monitoring from here on out to make sure she’s ok, but she looks fine right now.

I did have to see a cardiologist yesterday because they wanted to do an echocardiogram and a 24-hour heart monitor. Luckily, the shape of my heart seems fine. So, although this is a pretty serious issue that I can’t ignore any longer, it’s at least something that I should be able to treat with medication until after we have the baby. I’ll need to figure out if I want to do heart surgery or something like that, but I’m not thinking about that at this point. I’m just really glad to be home, away from tubes and needles and oxygen masks and all that icky stuff.

That being said, it was obviously the right choice to go to the emergency room and I’m kicking myself for waiting so long before waking Kyle up. On some level, I feel like I should have known that this wasn’t “pregnancy normal”, but I was so worried about overreacting that I put both me and our kid in danger. Lesson learned.

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  • Reply -J.Darling

    Hey Carly –
    I'm glad you're taken care of now! Heart conditions later in life are terribly common among those that struggle with certain eating issues. Too bad your initial MD didn't see this as a warning sign and help you get a handle on things sooner! Be careful of that heart. I'm sure Kyle and baby want it intact!

    December 7, 2010 at 10:46 am
  • Reply Princess Christy

    Oh Carly! I'm so sorry to hear this, as it sounds terrifying. Glad Kyle insisted on not wasting anymore time.

    December 7, 2010 at 11:00 am
  • Reply Jones Family

    I'm glad you and the little girl Morgan are home and doing well! I learned this lesson the hard way, too. So now when I'm pregnant- I get checked out for every stinkin' thing. Good on Kyle for his quick thinking. Slow down and stay healthy! We'll be thinking about you!

    December 7, 2010 at 12:20 pm
  • Reply Pandora

    Good to hear you are home from the hospital and that things are under control. I react to medical issues just like you, so I could see myself doing something like that "It's probably nothing, I can handle it, this is normal, I don't want to be a drama queen." Glad to know that everything is on track!

    December 7, 2010 at 10:51 pm
  • Reply The Ogdens

    i can't believe you were in A-Fib…crap carly that's pretty serious stuff! I'm glad that you and baby are fine. call me 🙂

    December 8, 2010 at 2:47 am
  • Reply Eeyore_fan

    I'm sorry you had to go through all that – scary!! It's good that you went to the hospital when you did and that Kyle was with you. Glad that you and the baby are okay and are at home now. 🙂

    December 8, 2010 at 7:40 am
  • Reply Amanda

    I'm so sorry Carly!! I'm glad you are both doing ok! I suffer from palpitations and probably would do the same thing you did and not go to the hospital. Glad Kyle was smart enough to take you 🙂

    December 8, 2010 at 7:52 am
  • Reply Ashley

    Holy cow Carly!! So glad you guys are ok! Rest up!

    December 8, 2010 at 1:32 pm
  • Reply Strong Family

    Scary! I'm so glad you and the baby are ok.

    December 8, 2010 at 5:31 pm
  • Reply Carole

    WOW Carly just now reading this. I am so glad you are ok. We did not know about your heart problems even before. You have to become a wimp and go to doctors. I have Uncle Oly looking at baby stuff these days. He is really looking forward to seeing you after the arrival.

    December 18, 2010 at 11:47 pm
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