Heart palpitations are heartbeats that abruptly become quite evident. The heart feels as if it is pounding, beating erratically or fluttering, usually for a few seconds or minutes. These sensations are also felt in the neck or throat.
Even though heart palpitations might seem alarming, they are usually harmless and not an indication of an issue with the heart. Nevertheless, if accompanied by other symptoms such as chest tightness or dizziness, it can indicate a heart condition. A doctor should be consulted if the individual experiences palpitations with other symptoms or if he/she is worried.
Causes of heart palpitations
The palpitations can be instigated by a surge of adrenaline which is a hormone released after the individual overexerted or if feeling anxious, nervous or excited. Consuming spicy or rich foods, drinking large amounts of caffeine as well as smoking, alcohol and using recreational drugs can trigger heart palpitations.
If these lifestyle factors are responsible for the palpitations, it is recommended to reduce the level of stress with relaxation techniques and controlling the level of exercise engaged in.
It is also advisable to minimize the intake of caffeinated beverages or energy drinks as well as the use of recreational drugs.
In some cases, heart palpitations can be a side effect of certain medications such as asthma inhalers or tablets for thyroid issues. A doctor should be consulted if a medication might be responsible for the palpitations. The individual should not stop using a prescribed medication without consulting a doctor first.
If the individual has regular palpitations along with feelings of stress, anxiety and panic, it might be panic attacks. Take note that a panic attack can trigger an overwhelming sense of fear, anxiety and apprehension along with sweating, nausea, palpitations and trembling. Panic attacks can be scary and intense but they are not usually dangerous.
Menstruation, pregnancy and menopause
The palpitations are oftentimes the result of hormonal changes during the menstruation period, during pregnancy or during menopause. Nevertheless, these are only momentary and not an issue to worry about.
Certain conditions such as the following can trigger the heart to beat rapidly, erratically or stronger and can be the cause of heart palpitations:
- Overactive thyroid
- Low blood sugar level
- Some forms of low blood pressure
- Heart issues
- High body temperature or fever
Do I have a heart problem?
If the individual starts to experience palpitations more often or they seem to worsen or occur along with symptoms such as chest tightness or dizziness, a doctor should be consulted.
In uncommon cases, heart rhythm conditions might also cause the palpitations. These are determined with testing carried out by the doctor.
When to consult a doctor
The doctor will require an electrocardiogram to assess the heart rhythm and rate. This is used to confirm if there is an issue and if treatment is needed. In some cases, further testing is needed.
Atrial fibrillation is one of the prevalent heart rhythm issues and a main cause of stroke, usually affecting those over 55 years old. The condition causes a rapid, irregular pulse that can lead to persistent heart flutter.
Supraventricular tachycardia (SVT)
This is a heart rhythm problem similar to atrial fibrillation which triggers episodes of an unusually rapid heart rate but the rate is often steady, not erratic.
The episodes of supraventricular tachycardia are considered harmless and tend to settle without requiring treatment. On the other hand, it is best to seek medical care if the individual experiences extended episodes of SVT.