- Have an unpleasant awareness of your own heartbeat
- Feel like your heart skipped or stopped beats
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.
The heart's rhythm may be normal or abnormal when you have palpitations.
Normally the heart beats 60 - 100 times per minute. In people who exercise routinely or take medications that slow the heart, the rate may drop below 55 beats per minute.
If your heart rate is fast (over 100 beats per minute), this is called tachycardia. A slow heart rate is called bradycardia. An occasional extra heartbeat is known as extrasystole.
Palpitations are usually not serious. However, it depends on whether or not the sensations represent an abnormal heart rhythm ( arrhythmia). The following conditions make you more likely to have an abnormal heart rhythm:
- Known heart disease at the time the palpitations begin
- Significant risk factors for heart disease
- An abnormal heart valve
- An electrolyte abnormality in your blood -- for example, a low potassium level
Heart palpitations are most often not serious. They can be due to:
- Anxiety, stress, panic attacks, or fear
- Caffeine and nicotine use
- Cocaine or other illegal drugs
- Diet pills
However, some palpitations are due to an abnormal heart rhythm, which may be caused by:
- Heart disease
- Abnormal heart valve, such as mitral valve prolapse
- Abnormal blood levels of potassium
- Certain medications, including those used to treat asthma, high blood pressure, or heart problems
- Overactive thyroid
- Low levels of oxygen in your blood
- Reduce your caffeine and nicotine intake. This will often reduce heart palpitations.
- Learn to reduce stress and anxiety. This can help prevent palpitations and help you better manage them when they occur.
- Try breathing exercises or deep relaxation (a step-by-step process of tensing and then relaxing every muscle group in your body)
- Practice yoga, meditation, or tai chi.
- Get regular exercise.
- Do not smoke.
Once a serious cause has been ruled out by your doctor, try not to pay close attention to heart palpitations. This may cause stress. However, contact your doctor if you notice a sudden increase or a change in them.
When to Contact a Medical Professional
If you have never had heart palpitations before, see your health care provider.
The following symptoms require immediate attention. Call 911 or your local emergency number:
- Lose of alertness (consciousness)
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath
- Unusual sweating,
- Dizziness lightheadedness
Call your doctor right away if:
- You feel frequent extra heartbeats (more than 6 per minute or coming in groups of 3 or more).
- You have risk factors for heart disease, such as high cholesterol, diabetes, or high blood pressure.
- You have new or different heart palpitations.
- Your pulse is more than 100 beats per minute (without exercise, anxiety, or fever).
What to Expect at Your Office Visit
Your doctor or nurse will examine you and ask questions about your medical history and symptoms.
You may be asked:
- Do you feel skipped or stopped beats?
- Does your heart rate feel slow or fast when you have the palpitations?
- Do you feel a racing, pounding, or fluttering?
- Is there a regular or irregular pattern to the unusual heartbeat sensations?
- Did the palpitations begin or end suddenly?
- When do the palpitations occur? In response to reminders of a traumatic event? When you are lying down and resting? When you change your body position? When you feel emotional?
- Do you have any other symptoms?
An electrocardiogram will be done.
In the emergency room, you will be connected to a heart monitor.
If your doctor finds you have an abnormal heart rhythm, other tests may be done. This may include:
- Holter monitor for 24 hours, or another heart monitor for two weeks or longer
- Electrophysiology study (EPS)
- Coronary angiography
What can I do to prevent palpitations?
To help lessen heart palpitations:
· Decrease your stress level (Learn biofeedback, deep breathing and/or relaxation exercises such as yoga, tai chi, or guided imagery)
· Limit alcohol
· Limit caffeinated beverages
· Do not smoke or use tobacco products
· Exercise on a regular basis (Ask your doctor what exercise program is right for you)
· Avoid certain activities that appear to be associated with palpitations
·Avoid certain medications that act as stimulants, such as cough and cold medicines, and some herbal or nutritional supplements·
Make sure your blood pressure and cholesterol are well controlled.
Try not to pay attention to your heart palpitations once any serious causes have been ruled out. To help your doctor diagnose your condition, keep track of your heart palpitations. Note when they happen, how long they last, how you are feeling when they occur, and if you are doing an activity when they occur. Share this information with your doctor. If you notice a sudden increase in the palpitations or any type of change in them, call your doctor. Keep all scheduled follow-up visits with your doctor so your condition can be monitored. http://my.clevelandclinic.org/heart/disorders/electric/palpitations.aspx
Heartbeat sensations; Irregular heartbeat; Palpitations; Heart pounding or racing
Goldman L. Approach to the patient with possible cardiovascular disease. In Goldman L, Ausiello D, eds. Cecil Medicine. 23rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2007:chap 48.