What are heart palpitations?
Heart palpitations are a feeling like your heart is “racing, pounding”, or like you have missed heartbeats. You can feel palpitations in your chest, throat or neck.
Palpitations can happen at any time, even if you are resting or doing normal activities. Although they may be startling, palpitations are not usually serious or harmful, but they can be related to an abnormal heart rhythm.
Symptoms and Causes
What causes heart palpitations?
Heart palpitations can be caused by:
- Emotions, such as anxiety, stress, fear, and panic
- Medical conditions such as an overactive thyroid; low levels of sugar, potassium, oxygen or low carbon dioxide in your blood; fever; anemia; dehydration; blood loss and shock
- Medications such as asthma inhalers and decongestants, beta blockers (taken for high blood pressure or heart disease), thyroid and antiarrhythmic medications, some cough/cold medicines, and some herbal and nutritional supplements
- Some weight loss or diet pills
- Illegal drug: such as cocaine and amphetamines (speed)
- Alcoholic beverages
- Sometimes the cause is not known
Symptoms of palpitations are more likely to be related to an abnormal heart rhythm if you have:
- Significant risk factors for heart disease
- Heart disease
- An abnormal heart valve
Are palpitations a symptom of a more serious health problem?
Palpitations may be a sign of a more serious health problem if you also feel:
- Feel dizzy, confused or lightheaded
- Have trouble breathing
- Pass out when you have palpitations
Call 911 right away if you have these symptoms or if you have pain, pressure, or tightness in your chest, neck, jaw, arm(s), or upper back; shortness of breath; unusual sweating; or symptoms that are new or get worse.
Diagnosis and Tests
How are palpitations diagnosed?
Keep track of your palpitations. Note when they happen, how long they last, how you feel and what you are doing when they start. Bring this log to your appointment.
Your doctor will review this information along with your medical history, symptoms, diet and the medications and herbal products you may take. Your doctor will also listen to your heart and lungs.
You may need tests, such as blood and urine tests, electrocardiogram (ECG/EKG), stress test, chest X-ray and echocardiogram (heart ultrasound). You may need to wear a monitor after you go home so your doctor can get more information about your heart and symptoms.
Other tests to check for a heart problem include an electrophysiology study and cardiac catheterization. You may also need to see an electrophysiologist — a doctor that specializes in abnormal heart rhythms.
Management and Treatment
How are palpitations treated?
The best type of treatment for you depends on what causes your palpitations. You may not need any treatment. If the palpitations are related to certain foods, you should avoid those triggers. If you have heart disease or an abnormal heart rhythm, you may need medication, a procedure, surgery or a device to correct the problem. It is important to keep all follow-up appointments with your doctor.
If your palpitations get worse or suddenly happen more often, call your doctor.
What can I do to prevent palpitations?
Depending on the cause of your palpitations, these tips can help you have them less often:
- Reduce your stress level (using deep-breathing and/or relaxation exercises, yoga, tai chi, guided imagery) or biofeedback techniques.
- Avoid or limit the amount of alcohol you drink.
- Avoid or limit the amount of caffeine in your diet.
- Do not smoke or use tobacco/nicotine products
- Exercise on a regular basis (Before you start, ask your doctor what exercise programs are good for you).
- Avoid foods and activities that trigger palpitations.
- Control your blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
Doctors Who Treat
Doctors vary in quality due to differences in training and experience; hospitals differ in the number of services available. The more complex your medical problem, the greater these differences in quality become and the more they matter.
Clearly, the doctor and hospital that you choose for complex, specialized medical care will have a direct impact on how well you do. To help you make this choice, please review our Miller Family Heart, Vascular & Thoracic Institute Outcomes.
Cleveland Clinic Heart, Vascular & Thoracic Institute Cardiologists and Surgeons
Choosing a doctor to treat your abnormal heart rhythm depends on where you are in your diagnosis and treatment. The following Heart, Vascular & Thoracic Institute Sections and Departments treat patients with Arrhythmias:
- Section of Electrophysiology and Pacing: cardiology evaluation for medical management or electrophysiology procedures or devices - Call Cardiology Appointments at toll-free 800.223.2273, extension 4-6697 or request an appointment online.
- Department of Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgery: surgery evaluation for surgical treatment for atrial fibrillation, epicardial lead placement, and in some cases if necessary, lead and device implantation and removal. For more information, please contact us.
- You may also use our MyConsult second opinion consultation using the Internet.
The Heart, Vascular & Thoracic Institute has specialized centers to treat certain populations of patients:
Learn more about experts who specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of arrhythmias. For younger patients with abnormal heart rhythms:
See: About Us to learn more about the Sydell and Arnold Miller Family Heart, Vascular & Thoracic Institute.
Resources & Patient Information
If you need more information, click here to contact us, chat online with a nurse or call the Miller Family Heart, Vascular & Thoracic Institute Resource & Information Nurse at 216.445.9288 or toll-free at 866.289.6911. We would be happy to help you.
Becoming a Patient
- Atrial Fibrillation
- Ventricular Tachycardia
- All Miller Family Heart, Vascular & Thoracic Institute Treatment Guides
Diagnostic tests are used to diagnose your abnormal heartbeat and the most effective treatment method.
- Heart Rhythm Disorders and Treatments Videos
- All Miller Family Heart, Vascular & Thoracic Institute Videos
- Recovery at home
- Support Groups and Information
- Visit Health Essentials - Read articles on rhythm disorders and healthy living on Health Essentials
- Follow Heart, Vascular & Thoracic Institute webchats and news stories on Twitter*
- Subscribe to Heart, Vascular & Thoracic eNews
Why choose Cleveland Clinic for your care?
Our outcomes speak for themselves. Please review our facts and figures and if you have any questions don’t hesitate to ask.
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