What are heart palpitations?
Your heart may feel like it’s pounding, fluttering or beating irregularly, often for just a few seconds or minutes. You may also feel these sensations in your throat or neck.
Palpitations may seem alarming, but in most cases they’re harmless and aren’t a sign of a serious problem.
How common are heart palpitations?
Heart palpitations are common. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.
What are the symptoms of heart palpitations?
Heart palpitations can feel like your heart is:
- Skipping beats
- Beating too fast
- Pumping harder than usual
You may feel heart palpitations in your throat or neck, as well as your chest. Heart palpitations can occur whether you’re active or at rest, and whether you’re standing, seated or lying down.
There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.
When should I see my doctor?
You should contact your doctor if you have any of the following:
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain
What causes heart palpitations?
There can be many. Usually, palpitations are either related to your heart or the cause is unknown. Non-heart-related causes include:
- Strong emotions like anxiety, fear, or stress. They often happen during panic attacks.
- Vigorous physical activity
- Caffeine, nicotine, alcohol, or illegal drugs such as cocaine and amphetamines
- Medical conditions, including thyroid disease, a low blood sugar level, anemia, low blood pressure, fever, and dehydration
- Hormonal changes during menstruation, pregnancy, or just before menopause. Sometimes, palpitations during pregnancy are signs of anemia.
- Medications, including diet pills, decongestants, asthma inhalers, and some drugs used to prevent arrhythmias (a serious heart rhythm problem) or treat an underactive thyroid
- Some herbal and nutritional supplements
- Abnormal electrolyte levels
Some people have palpitations after heavy meals rich in carbohydrates, sugar, or fat. Sometimes, eating foods with a lot of monosodium glutamate (MSG), nitrates, or sodium can bring them on, too.
If you have heart palpitations after eating certain foods, it could be due to food sensitivity. Keeping a food diary can help you figure out which foods to avoid.
They can also be related to heart disease. When they are, they’re more likely to represent arrhythmia. Heart conditions tied to palpitations include:
- Prior heart attack
- Coronary artery disease
- Heart failure
- Heart valve problems
- Heart muscle problems
What increases my risk for heart palpitations?
There are many risk factors for heart palpitations, such as:
- Are highly stressed
- Have an anxiety disorder or regularly experience panic attacks
- Are pregnant
- Take medicines that contain stimulants, such as some cold or asthma medications
- Have an overactive thyroid gland (hyperthyroidism)
- Have other heart problems, such as an arrhythmia, heart defect or previous heart attack
Diagnosis & treatment
The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.
How is heart palpitations diagnosed?
If your doctor thinks you have heart palpitations, he or she will listen to your heart using a stethoscope. Your doctor may also look for signs of medical conditions that can cause heart palpitations, such as a swollen thyroid gland.
Other tests your doctor may perform include:
- Electrocardiogram (ECG). In this noninvasive test, a technician will place probes on your chest that record the electrical impulses that make your heart beat.
- An ECG can help your doctor detect irregularities in your heart’s rhythm and structure that could cause palpitations. The test may be performed while you rest or exercise (stress electrocardiogram).
- Holter monitoring. A Holter monitor is a portable device that you wear to record a continuous ECG, usually for 24 to 72 hours. Holter monitoring is used to detect heart palpitations that aren’t found during a regular ECG exam.
- Event recording. If you don’t have irregular heart rhythms while you wear a Holter monitor, your doctor may recommend an event recorder.
- You wear an event recorder as much as possible throughout the day, and push a button on a recording device you wear on your belt to record your heartbeat when you have symptoms. You may need to wear an event monitor for several weeks.
- This noninvasive exam, which includes an ultrasound of your chest, shows detailed images of your heart’s structure and function.
- Ultrasound waves are transmitted, and their echoes are recorded with a device called a transducer that’s held outside your body. A computer uses the information from the transducer to create moving images on a video monitor.
How is heart palpitations treated?
Unless your doctor finds that you have a heart condition, heart palpitations seldom require treatment. Instead, your doctor may recommend ways for you to avoid the triggers that cause your palpitations.
If your palpitations are caused by a condition, such as an arrhythmia, your treatment will focus on correcting the condition.
Lifestyle changes & home remedies
What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage heart palpitations?
The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with heart palpitations:
- Reduce stress or anxiety. Try relaxation techniques, such as meditation, yoga, or deep breathing or aromatherapy.
- Avoid stimulants. Stimulants, including caffeine, nicotine, some cold medicines and energy drinks, can make your heart beat quickly or irregularly.
- Avoid illegal drugs. Certain drugs, such as cocaine and amphetamines, can bring on heart palpitations.
If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.
Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.
Heart palpitations. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/heart-palpitations/basics/lifestyle-home-remedies/con-20034780. Accessed July 2017.
Heart Palpitations. http://www.webmd.com/heart-disease/guide/what-causes-heart-palpitations#2-3. Accessed July 2017.
Heart palpitations and ectopic beats. http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/Heart-palpitations/Pages/Introduction.aspx. Accessed July 2017.
Review Date: July 13, 2017 | Last Modified: September 13, 2019