Heart palpitations are a feeling that your heart is beating too hard or too fast, skipping a beat, or fluttering. You may notice heart palpitations in your chest, throat, or neck.
Heart palpitations can be bothersome or frightening. They usually aren’t serious or harmful, though, and often go away on their own. Most of the time, they’re related to stress and anxiety or to consumption of stimulants such as caffeine, nicotine, or alcohol. Palpitations also often occur during pregnancy.
In rare cases, palpitations can be a sign of a more serious heart condition. Therefore, if you have heart palpitations, make arrangements to see your doctor. And seek immediate medical attention if along with palpitations, you experience shortness of breath, dizziness, chest pain, or fainting.
After taking your medical history and conducting a physical exam, your doctor may order tests that can either confirm or rule out an underlying cause. If an underlying cause is found, the right treatment can reduce or eliminate palpitations. If your palpitations are not related to an underlying cause, lifestyle changes, including stress management and the avoidance of common triggers, can help prevent them.
Signs and Symptoms of Palpitations?
Palpitations describe an irregularity of the heartbeat as felt by the patient. They may be felt as an isolated skipped beat or they may be frequent and recurrent. Palpitations may also be rapid and either regular or irregular. This may lead to the patient describing a fluttering in their chest.
Patients may also complain of fullness in their chest or throat. There may also be associated shortness of breath, nausea, and sweating. If the heart rate is very fast, the patient’s blood pressure may fall causing lightheadedness and the sensation that they might pass out. Syncope, where the patient actually does faint or pass out, may occur depending upon the cause of palpitations.
Causes of Palpitations
Often the cause of your heart palpitations can’t be found. Common causes of heart palpitations include:
- Strong emotional responses, such as stress or anxiety
- Strenuous exercise
- Hormone changes associated with menstruation, pregnancy or menopause
- Taking cold and cough medications that contain pseudoephedrine, a stimulant
- Taking some asthma inhaler medications that contain stimulants
Occasionally heart palpitations can be a sign of a serious problem, such as an overactive thyroid gland (hyperthyroidism) or an abnormal heart rhythm (arrhythmia). Arrhythmias may include very fast heart rates (tachycardia), unusually slow heart rates (bradycardia) or an irregular heart rhythm.
Treatment for Heart Palpitations
Treatment depends on the cause of your palpitations. Any underlying medical conditions will have to be addressed.
Most of the time, no cause for palpitations is found, and no treatment is advised.
If your palpitations are due to controllable lifestyle choices such as smoking or too much caffeine, simply cutting down or eliminating those substances may be all that is needed. If you think medication may be the problem, ask your doctor about alternative medications or treatments.
- Lower your intake of caffeine and nicotine. This will often reduce heart palpitations.
- Learn to reduce stress and anxiety. This can help prevent palpitations and help you better manage them when they occur.
- Try deep relaxation or breathing exercises.
- Practice yoga, meditation, or tai chi.
- Get regular exercise.
- Do not smoke.
Once a serious cause has been ruled out by your doctor, try not to pay close attention to heart palpitations. This may cause stress. However, contact your doctor if you notice a sudden increase or a change in them.
When you may have a heart problem
If you start to experience palpitations more often, or if they get worse or occur with other symptoms such as dizziness or tightness in your chest, see your GP. You may have a heart rhythm problem (arrhythmia), such as atrial fibrillation or supraventricular tachycardia (SVT).
There are also other, less common, heart rhythm conditions that may be the cause of your palpitations. These can be determined by appropriate tests. When your GP or hospital discovers the exact problem with your heart, ask them to explain it to you.