Palpitations

  • Medical Author:
    Benjamin Wedro, MD, FACEP, FAAEM

    Dr. Ben Wedro practices emergency medicine at Gundersen Clinic, a regional trauma center in La Crosse, Wisconsin. His background includes undergraduate and medical studies at the University of Alberta, a Family Practice internship at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario and residency training in Emergency Medicine at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center.

  • Medical Editor: Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD
    Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD

    Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD

    Dr. Charles "Pat" Davis, MD, PhD, is a board certified Emergency Medicine doctor who currently practices as a consultant and staff member for hospitals. He has a PhD in Microbiology (UT at Austin), and the MD (Univ. Texas Medical Branch, Galveston). He is a Clinical Professor (retired) in the Division of Emergency Medicine, UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, and has been the Chief of Emergency Medicine at UT Medical Branch and at UTHSCSA with over 250 publications.

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What is the treatment for palpitations?

It is a medical emergency if palpitations are associated with chest pain (including jaw pain, indigestion or extreme fatigue), shortness of breath, or syncope (passing out). It is important to activate the emergency response system (call 9-1-1) and seek medical care immediately.

Treatment for palpitations depends upon the underlying situation and cause of the abnormal heart rhythm and is tailored to the specific patient's needs.

Many causes of palpitations are self-limiting and lifestyle changes may help decrease their occurrence. These include deceasing or avoiding the use of caffeine, alcohol, and over-the-counter cold medications. As well, many herbal medications contain stimulants that may affect the heart's electrical conducting system. Smoking cessation is always appropriate.

Depending upon the underlying cause of palpitations, medications may be prescribed to control the heart rate and rhythm. Other treatments may involve ablation or surgical techniques to remove the underlying cause of certain palpitations.

Pacemakers and defibrillators may be indicated if life-threatening conditions are the cause of palpitations.

What is the prognosis for palpitations?

Many palpitations are temporary only and are caused by situations that can be resolved by lifestyle modifications. For example, premature atrial contractions and premature ventricular contractions are variations of normal and do not affect life expectancy but may be prevented by decreasing the intake of stimulants like caffeine and alcohol. These palpitations usually have a good prognosis.

Other causes of palpitations may require medications or surgery to control the heart rhythm disturbance. The goal is to return the patient to their previous level of health and activity, minimizing restrictions on their daily lives. These palpitations have a prognosis from good to fair and occasionally poor, depending on the individual's response to treatment.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 12/3/2015

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