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.

What causes heart palpitations?

Heart palpitations can be caused by:

  • Emotions, such as anxiety, stress, fear, and panic
  • Exercise
  • Pregnancy
  • Caffeine
  • 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
  • Illegal drug: such as cocaine and amphetamines (speed)
  • Nicotine
  • 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.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 05/01/2019.

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