Is a "racing heart" normal for someone with heart disease after a bypass?

A fellow caregiver asked...

Since my mother had a bypass operation a month ago, she has been complaining that it feels like her heart is "racing out of control." Is this normal?

Expert Answer

Barry M. Massie is chief of cardiology at the San Francisco V.A. Medical Center.

It's not uncommon, but that doesn't mean it's nothing to be concerned about. Your mother's symptoms should be reported to her physician immediately.

The most common cause of a racing heart is atrial fibrillation, a rapid and irregular heartbeat that occurs in up to half of patients who have a bypass or other cardiac operation. While atrial fibrillation in itself isn't particularly dangerous, it can lead to blood clots in the heart that may cause strokes or other complications. Atrial fibrillation usually occurs soon after surgery, but it can recur in the first couple of months.

Your mother's physician will likely order an electrocardiogram (EKG). Depending on the results, her doctor may want to prescribemedication to slow your mother's heart rate or return her normal rhythm, use an electric shock to "convert" the rhythm back to normal,or, if the abnormal rhythm persists, use blood thinners (warfarin or coumadin) to prevent blood clots from forming.