Palpitations

Brief H&P

48F with a history of Grave disease (off medications for 4 months), presenting with palpitations. Noted gradual onset of palpitations while at rest, describing a pounding sensation lasting 3-4 hours and persistent (though improved) on presentation. Symptoms not associated with chest pain, shortness of breath, loss of consciousness, nor triggered by exertion. She reported a history of 8-10 episodes in the past for which she did not seek medical attention. Review of systems notable only for heat intolerance.

On physical examination, vital signs were notable for tachycardia (HR 138bpm). No alteration in mental status, murmur, tremor or hyperreflexia appreciated.

Labs

  • Hb: 14.7
  • Urine hCG: negative
  • TSH: <0.01
  • Total T3: 311ng/dL
  • Free T4: 2.64ng/dL

ECG

Palpitations - Sinus Tachycardia

Sinus Tachycardia

Impression/Plan

Palpitations due to sinus tachycardia from symptomatic hyperthyroidism secondary to medication non-adherence. Improved with propranolol, discharged with methimazole and PMD follow-up.

Differential Diagnosis of Palpitations1, 2

Differential Diagnosis of Palpitations

Evaluation of Palpitations

History and Physical

Subjective description of symptom quality
Rapid and regular beating suggests paroxysmal SVT or VT. Rapid and irregular beating suggests atrial fibrillation, atrial flutter, or variable conduction block.
Stop/start sensation: PAC or PVC
Rapid fluttering: Sustained supraventricular or ventricular tachycardia
Pounding in neck: Produced by canon A waves from AV dissociation (VT, complete heart block, SVT)
Onset and offset
Random, episodic, lasting instants: Suggests PAC or PVC
Gradual onset and offset: Sinus tachycardia
Abrupt onset and offset: SVT or VT
Syncope
Suggests hemodynamically significant arrhythmia, often VT
Examination
Identify evidence of structural, valvular heart disease

ECG1

ECG Finding Presumed etiology
Short PR, Delta waves WPW, AVRT
LAA, LVH Atrial fibrillation
PVC, BBB Idiopathic VT
Q-waves Prior MI, VT
QT-prolongation VT (polymorphic)
LVH, septal Q-waves HCM
Blocks  

Algorithm for the Evaluation of Palpitations3

Algorithm for the Evaluation of Palpitations

References

  1. Zimetbaum P, Josephson ME. Evaluation of patients with palpitations. N Engl J Med. 1998;338(19):1369-1373. doi:10.1056/NEJM199805073381907.
  2. Probst MA, Mower WR, Kanzaria HK, Hoffman JR, Buch EF, Sun BC. Analysis of emergency department visits for palpitations (from the National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey). The American Journal of Cardiology. 2014;113(10):1685-1690. doi:10.1016/j.amjcard.2014.02.020.
  3. Abbott AV. Diagnostic approach to palpitations. Am Fam Physician. 2005;71(4):743-750.

Syncope

ID:

A 50 year-old male with a reported two-year history of infrequent spells, presenting with two spells in the past two days.

HPI:

The patient’s spells began two years ago, he recounts that he was watching television when he lost consciousness and a friend noted he started shaking; he does not recall the event, and awoke in the hospital. The next spell occurred one year later, though the patient is unable to recall much about this episode. The patient remained spell-free until yesterday when he was on a bus, lost consciousness and awoke in a hospital. He notes that he had bit his tongue and lost control of his bladder. He was discharged hours later with a prescription for an AED which he was unable to fill. This morning, the patient had another spell while in the bathroom. His roommate heard him fall, found him on the ground, and noted that his mouth was moving but did not see any other movements.

The patient’s episodes are all associated with loss of consciousness and are followed by 5-10 minutes of disorientation after which he recovers fully. The episodes are sometimes preceded by a feeling of “euphoria”, though this feeling sometimes occurs without subsequent LOC.

The patient denies any associated palpitations, dizziness/LH, chest pain or muscle pain.  He has not had any recent fevers/chills, dysuria, cough, headache, changes in vision, numbness/tingling, weakness, difficulty speaking or swallowing or weight loss. He also denies any history of head trauma.

Physical Examination:

  • VS: Stable and WNL
  • General: Well-appearing, pleasant, and in NAD.
  • HEENT: NC/AT. MMM. Small lesion on tongue.
  • Lungs: CTAB.
  • CV: RRR with occasional ectopic beats, no M/R/G.
  • Abdomen: S/NT/ND. Bowel sounds present.
  • Neurological exam: AAOx4, CN II-XII intact, motor/sensation/reflexes/coordination/gait WNL

Imaging/Studies:

  • EKG: Occasional PAC/PVC
  • CT Brain: Unremarkable except for mild age-related cerebral atrophy

Assessment & Plan:

50 year-old male with a history of HTN and a reported two-year history of infrequent spells presenting with two spells in the past two days. The description of the patient’s episodes could be consistent with seizures. Aspects supporting this notion include loss of consciousness and period of confusion following each episode. One of the recent episodes was also associated with tongue-biting and loss of bladder control. Additionally, some episodes are associated with a sensation of euphoria rising from the abdomen to the head which could be indicative of an aura. Characteristics that suggest other causes include the absence of noted convulsions and non-stereotyped nature of each episode which could be due to the patient’s poor recollection of these events and absence of reliable witnesses. In the case of true seizures, the possible etiologies in this patient include a mass, metabolic abnormalities, substance use, or concomitant infection exacerbating an existing propensity for seizure activity. Other, non-seizure causes warranting evaluation include cardiogenic syncope particularly given the evidence of ectopic beats on examination and electrocardiogram.

Differential Diagnosis of Syncope

First, is it syncope? History is very important for distinguishing syncope from other causes (seizure, dizziness, vertigo, presyncope). Ask about precipitating events, prodromal symptoms, post-ictal confusion. Common causes of syncope and their associated symptoms are detailed in the figure below.

References:

  1. Kapoor, W. N. (2000). Syncope. The New England journal of medicine, 343(25), 1856–1862. doi:10.1056/NEJM200012213432507