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. However, they can sometimes be related to an abnormal heart rhythm that needs medical attention.
Symptoms and Causes
What causes heart palpitations?
Heart palpitations can have these causes:
- Emotions, such as anxiety, stress, fear and panic.
- Overactive thyroid.
- Low levels of sugar, potassium, oxygen.
- Low carbon dioxide in your blood.
- Blood loss.
- 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.
- Some herbal and nutritional supplements.
- Recreational drug use such as cocaine and amphetamines (speed).
- Sometimes the cause is not known.
How long do heart palpitations last?
Heart palpitations usually don’t last long. They can last seconds or minutes or longer in some situations.
What do heart palpitations feel like?
Heart palpitations can feel like your heart is racing, pounding or even missing a beat. You can have this feeling in your chest, but also in your neck or throat.
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.
When should I worry about heart palpitations?
Heart palpitations are usually not dangerous. They may be a sign of a more serious health problem if you also:
- Feel dizzy, confused or lightheaded.
- Have chest pain or pressure.
- 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.
- Symptoms that are new or get worse.
Diagnosis and Tests
How are heart palpitations diagnosed?
Keep track of your heart palpitations. Note the following:
- When they happen.
- How long they last.
- How you feel.
- What you are doing when they start.
Bring this log to your next appointment with your primary care provider.
Your healthcare provider will review this information along with your:
- Medical history.
- Medications and herbal products you take.
Your provider will also listen to your heart and lungs.
You may need tests, such as:
- Blood tests.
- Urine tests.
- Electrocardiogram (ECG/EKG).
- Stress test.
- Chest X-ray.
- 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 who specializes in abnormal heart rhythms).
Management and Treatment
How do I stop heart palpitations?
If your heart palpitations are from anxiety or stress, you may be able to control them with calming activities like yoga, meditation or a mindfulness exercise that focuses on your breathing.
Will heart palpitations go away?
Heart palpitations often go away without medical treatment if they were brought on by things you control, such as:
- Drinking alcohol.
- Drinking caffeinated beverages.
- Eating spicy or rich food.
- Working out too hard.
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’s important to keep all follow-up appointments with your provider.
If your palpitations get worse or suddenly happen more often, call your healthcare provider.
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 healthcare provider what exercise programs are good for you).
- Avoid foods and activities that trigger palpitations.
- Control your blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
Outlook / Prognosis
Heart palpitations are usually not a cause for concern. People who have them can go about their normal lives.
Are heart palpitations dangerous?
Heart palpitations are usually not dangerous. See: When should I worry about heart palpitations?
Are heart palpitations normal?
Heart palpitations are very common and are usually a normal response to stress or anxiety.
You can get heart palpitations at different times in your life. Some people experience:
- Heart palpitations after eating. Spicy or rich foods can cause palpitations, and so can caffeinated drinks or alcohol.
- Heart palpitations at night. These are just like daytime palpitations, but you may notice them more at night because you’re not busy or distracted.
- Heart palpitations when lying down. Sleeping on your side may increase pressure in your body, which can cause palpitations.
- Heart palpitations all day. If you’re having heart palpitations all day, check with your healthcare provider. Most heart palpitations don’t last long.
- Heart palpitations with anxiety. Heart palpitations can be part of your body’s reaction to feelings of anxiety or panic.
- Heart palpitations during pregnancy. When you’re pregnant, your heart rate increases and the amount of blood circulating in your body increases as well to support your baby. It’s common for pregnant women to have heart palpitations, which are usually harmless. There are medications that are safe for pregnant women to take for this problem.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Heart palpitations (feeling like your heart is racing or pounding) can be unsettling because you usually aren’t aware of your heartbeat. But heart palpitations are normally harmless. If you have other symptoms like dizziness or passing out when you have heart palpitations, that could be a sign of a serious medical problem. In that case, you should tell your healthcare provider about it.
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