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12 Jul 2005

Hi Doc,

For past 8 months or so (on and off), I have been suffering with the following problem. I go to sleep and then within an hour of going to sleep, I wake up and my heart is racing and beating so hard & fast in my chest. Feels like I had a huge fright and I struggle to take my first breath. After waking up from it, I feel very anxious. I can get back to sleep again, but I feel disturbed when this happens. It is happening more frequently. I dont drink, smoke or take any drugs. I am in my late 20's, but am overweight. This is scaring me and I have had an ECG done 3 months ago plus bloodtests and it all came back normal. However, the lack of proper sleep is starting to affect my day to day life and I am feeling very tired and obviously very worried about what is wrong with me.

Please help -I am desperate !
Answer 368 views

01 Jan 0001

Dear Selma,

This is an unusual problem indeed, and there could be a number of reasons for it.

The obvious ones are things like recurrent nightmares, linked to anxiety. Here, the bad dream is often not recalled upon awakening, but can cause enough of a scare to wake the person in the way you describe. You could be having a transient irregularity of your pulse rate. Even though your blood tests were normal, and the ECG too, remember that your ECG will only show the problem if it is done at the time it occurs. To do this, you will need to have a 24-hour, or Halter monitor, which you wear continuously. This will record all cardiac activity, even when you are sleeping, and will give valuable information.

I do not know how overweight you are, but you could be having episodes of sleep apnoea, during which your oxygen levels drop. This syndrome is associated with nightmares, during which the oxygen levels drop significantly.(REM-associated hypoxia) Patients are often awoken several times during the night, struggling to breathe. As a result, they become chronically sleep-deprived, which makes their days bad too. Many overweight patients have this problem.

You do need to see a doctor about this. I would suggest that you investigate the important things first – go to a cardiologist, and discuss the problem with him, with a view to 24-hour ECG monitoring. If he gives you the all-clear regarding your heart, then you will need to see a physician with a special interest in sleep disorders, or one with an interest in weight management.

Good luck.
The information provided does not constitute a diagnosis of your condition. You should consult a medical practitioner or other appropriate health care professional for a physical examination, diagnosis and formal advice. Health24 and the expert accept no responsibility or liability for any damage or personal harm you may suffer resulting from making use of this content.
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