Heart palpitations are common and can come from exercise, stress, or caffeine consumption. However, you should be worried about heart palpitations if they persist or are accompanied by symptoms such as:
- Chest pain, discomfort, or pressure
- Chest pain that spreads to the arms, back, or jaw
- Shortness of breath
- Unusual sweating
You should also seek medical help immediately if you have heart palpitations with the following conditions:
What causes heart palpitations?
Normally, you do not noticel your heartbeat while you are at rest. However, changes in your heart rate can cause your heart to beat faster or harder or irregularly.
Heart palpitations can feel like your heart is racing, pounding, fluttering, or even skipping beats. You may be able to feel this not only in your chest but also in your neck region.
Heart palpitations are often temporary and can be caused by:
- Vigorous exercise
- Caffeinated drinks
- Recreational drugs such as cocaine and amphetamines
- Heavy meals rich in carbohydrates or fat
- Foods that are high in MSG or sodium
- Stress, anxiety, or fear
Other conditions that can cause palpitations include:
- Thyroid disease (such as hyperthyroidism)
- Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar)
- Hypotension (low blood pressure)
- Some herbal and nutritional supplements
- Abnormal electrolyte levels
- Heart disorders
What tests may be ordered if you have heart palpitations?
If you have frequent heart palpitations, your doctor will take your medical history and ask about your symptoms, lifestyle, diet, and current medications. They may also order tests such as:
- Blood tests: Checks your thyroid hormone levels (for hyperthyroidism) and hemoglobin levels (for anemia)
- Electrocardiogram: Checks your heart rhythm and electrical activity
- Echocardiogram: Assesses how efficiently your heart is pumping
- Chest X-ray: Checks for lung problems such as accumulation of fluid caused by heart failure
- Exercise stress test: Records the response of your heart while exercising
- Holter monitoring: Records electrical activity of your heart for 24-48 hours
- Genetic heart testing: Checks whether irregular heartbeats are due to an inherited heart condition
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How are heart palpitations treated?
Heart palpitations are treated according to the underlying cause. For example, if medications are causing your symptoms, your doctor may lower the dosage or prescribe different medications. They may ask you to avoid certain triggers such as alcohol, nicotine, or coffee.
If your palpitations are caused by heart disease or an abnormal heart rhythm, you may be put on medications. If all other treatments fail, you may need to undergo surgery such as pacemaker surgery, which involves implanting a pacemaker into your heart.
What can I do to prevent heart palpitations?
In most cases, heart palpitations resolve without treatment. Depending on the cause, you can try to prevent them by:
- Practicing relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, yoga, tai chi, guided imagery, or biofeedback techniques
- Avoiding or limiting alcohol
- Avoiding or limiting caffeine
- Quitting smoking
- Staying physically active (restrict your workouts to exercises recommended by your doctor)
- Staying hydrated
- Taking medications as prescribed by your doctor
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Clementy N, Fourquet A, Andre C, et al. Benefits of an early management of palpitations. Medicine (Baltimore). 2018;97(28):e11466.
Alijaniha F, Noorbala A, Afsharypuor S, et al. Relationship between palpitation and mental health. Iran Red Crescent Med J. 2016;18(3):e22615.
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