What are heart palpitations?

Heart palpitations are heartbeat sensations that you suddenly become aware of because they feel like your heart is “pounding” or “racing.” They may feel like you have exercised or they may feel like a flutter, a skipped or extra beat, or a heartbeat that simply does not feel normal. Palpitations can occur at any time -- while you are simply sitting or moving about normally as you perform your daily activities.

Palpitations can be felt in your chest, throat or neck. Although heart palpitations may be startling, they may or may not be related to an abnormal heart rate and are often not serious or harmful.

What causes heart palpitations?

Heart palpitations may be caused by:

  • Emotions, such as anxiety, stress, fear, panic
  • Exercise
  • Pregnancy
  • Caffeine found in coffee, teas, chocolate, colas, some sports drinks and foods
  • Certain medical conditions: overactive thyroid, low blood sugar, low potassium level, low oxygen level or low carbon dioxide level in the blood, fever, anemia, dehydration, loss of blood, shock
  • Certain medications: asthma inhalers and decongestants, beta blockers (taken for high blood pressure or heart disease), thyroid and antiarrhythmic medications, and some over-the-counter medications that act as stimulants, such as cough and cold medicines, and some herbal or nutritional supplements
  • Illegal street drugs: cocaine and amphetamines (speed)
  • Nicotine found in tobacco products

Reviewed: 06/16