A Question Of Health

Why does my heart do somersaults all the time?
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Q. Since my mid-twenties I have experienced the occasional "heart flutter" episode where my heart feels like it's having a spasm (I'm 33). I've tried to ignore them but last year they got worse and went on for a whole day. My GP sent me for an ECG, which was normal because the flutter didn't happen while I was there. So I was basically pushed aside and told that there was nothing wrong. Now I'm having them again. I'm sure it is stress-related, but is there anything that can be done for me?

A. When your heart beats regularly, you are completely unaware of it. But if it starts to skip beats, or throw in the odd extra one, it can feel like it is literally doing a somersault inside your chest. Nearly everyone experiences this occasionally, but if it goes on for more than a second or two, it can be worrying. Sometimes these flutters are stress-related, but often they occur for no apparent reason. Alcohol and tobacco and caffeine sometimes make it worse. It would probably be sensible for you to have 24-hour heart tracing by wearing a portable device. This is much more likely to pick up the flutters. If it shows that they are simply extra or dropped beats (benign extrasystoles), you can relax, because they never cause any harm and usually disappear as mysteriously as they appeared.


Q. Our three-year-old daughter developed some angry, pus-filled spots under her arm and on her side. The GP diagnosed molluscum contagiosum and said we could try rupturing the spots, but warned that this would be painful and might cause scarring. Three months later, the GP said that she had heard a rumour that cimetidine (Tagamet), usually prescribed to control excess stomach acid, may work. We tried this treatment and, within three weeks, the spots have gone.

A. Molluscum contagiosum is a skin infection caused by a virus that is a member of the pox family. It is a pretty common infection among young children. It never leads to serious illness, but can be unpleasant and unsightly, particularly if the spots are on the face. Very occasionally the spots become doubly infected, with staphylococcal bacteria, and this makes them very angry-looking. It is not essential to treat molluscum, because it always disappears eventually, but this can take many months, so children (and parents) are often keen to make it all go away more quickly. Treatment with cimetidine is a new idea. There is no hard evidence that it works, though there are a few reports in the medical literature that it may. But it's always difficult to know if the molluscum was about to disappear anyway.

Have your say: Readers write

VB from Sussex ensured her babies slept in the correct position with a French contraption:

With all my children I have used a two-piece foam device that they lie in the middle of and that you can adjust with the attached Velcro. This enables you to position the baby on its side without it rolling over on to its back or front, and also provides cosy security for babies who want to lie on their backs. I got mine from France but have now seen them in shops here.

Please send questions and suggestions to A Question of Health, 'The Independent', Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS; fax 020-7005 2182 or e-mail health@independent.co.uk.