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Medical A term for acute, extremely powerful pounding of the heart

  1. Feb 29, 2012 #1
    I used to know this, but then I forgot and I can't seem to Google it.

    What is the name of that condition, usually acute and brought about by extreme anxiety or fear, in which you feel your heart pounding so powerfully that it seems to pulsate your entire chest cavity, and you can even feel your heartbeat pulsating in your ears?

    It's not tachycardia or fibrillation or anything as simple as that. The heart rate is normal or slightly faster than normal in this case. It can be a bit painful, but it passes within a few seconds or minutes and it usually requires no intervention. It's a fairly rare term that even many doctors don't know or have forgotten since the memorization days of the USMLE.

    Does anyone know what I'm talking about?
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 29, 2012 #2
  4. Feb 29, 2012 #3


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    Usually, what you're describing is simply called a bounding pulse. The definition doesn't require it be acute, just describes the forcefulness. I don't know of any other terminology for it. Bounding pulse is pretty universally used in the clinic. Maybe there's an older, Latinized term that has fallen into disuse. I did a quick Google search to see if I could locate a more technical term for it, but the only thing I found is that practitioners in the UK might also call it a water hammer pulse.

    Terminology in use on the USMLE has changed over time too, enough so that our poor, frustrated med students are learning two sets of terminology for many things...the term that will be used on the USMLE and the term the older practicing physicians will be using in the clinic, not to mention then having to translate the more common words their patients will use to describe symptoms.
  5. Feb 29, 2012 #4


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    Got me stumped. I'd agree with Moonbear and say you are describing a bounding pulse--But that doesn't jive with you saying many doctors don't know the term.

    Couple other terms to throw out there;

    Are you thinking of something like angina pectoris? That is often associated with fear and anxiety. And people can "feel" their pulse often during a bout of AP.

    Another possible term I thought you could be referring to is adrenergic storm: normally characterized by large releases of catecholamines. Normally this is drug induced (like during cocaine abuse), but I suppose it could be possible during an extreme panic attack (flight-fight response), fear, anxiety, etc; to have substantial release of catecholamines.

    Although you've said the scenarios you're describing doesn't require intervention another term along similar lines is "voodoo death" or psychosomatic death--In which people can literally be scared into cardiac arrest. It is believed this is again, a case of extreme flight-fight response and dumping of catecholamines.

    Patients often refer to "anxious" state heart rhythms as "my heart is skipping a beat" and "beating real hard"--Generally they are referring to PVCs (premature ventricular contractions).
  6. Mar 1, 2012 #5
    Thank you all, but it's none of those, although "bounding pulse" comes close. It is in fact a Latinized name, as Moonbear suggested. I stumbled upon it once while as I was perusing a medical dictionary, and it drew my attention because it described exactly what I once felt under extreme anxiety (trying to talk to a beautiful woman). I specifically recall the feeling of my heartbeat pounding against my eardrums, exactly as the dictionary described. The Wikipedia entry of "bounding pulse" doesn't mention that phenomenon.
  7. Mar 1, 2012 #6
    Sounds like a premature ventricular contraction- look up the adverse effects of digoxin as it can cause these types of ADRs. I dont remember any fancy terms for it but when I wikipedia'd digoxin it gave the word 'extrasystoles' in the ADR section. I've not seen that word in any monograph of a text I use but then again Australian/European and American terminologies often are different.
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