What Causes Heart Palpitations?

A fluttering feeling in your chest may cause you to sit up and take notice – or even wonder if you should head to Avail Hospital. But take heart – these jolting sensations called heart palpitations are usually harmless. Even so, there are times when you may want to seek medical care, so here’s what you need to know about these heart flutters along with their causes and symptoms.

Heart Palpitations Symptoms

Heart palpitations make you feel as though your heart beating is abnormally fast, fluttering or pounding. They can also make you feel as though your heart has skipped a beat. Heart palpitations are typically felt in the chest or neck. When you experience heart palpitations, you may also feel the urge to cough.

Contrary to what you might expect, you can experience heart flutters anytime. In fact, heart palpitations at night or during periods of inactivity are very common. You can also experience a pounding heart during rigorous work or exercise, but you may be less aware of the sensation, or you may think your heart racing is only due to your strenuous activity.

The good news is heart palpitations usually don’t last long and go away on their own. 

Heart Palpitations Causes

For most people who experience heart palpitations, they are caused by anxiety. Here’s a look at many of the most common causes of heart palpitations.

  • Anxiety, stress and panic
  • Exercise or strenuous work, such as gardening
  • Pregnancy, due to increased blood and the extra work required of your heart
  • Caffeine found in coffee, tea and other foods and drinks
  • Low levels of carbon dioxide, sugar, potassium or oxygen in your blood
  • Conditions such as fever, anemia, blood loss, dehydration or hyperthyroidism
  • Some medications, such as decongestants, cough and cold medicines, beta blockers for high blood pressure or heart disease, anti-arrhythmic medicines, thyroid medicines and asthma inhalers
  • Some herbal and nutritional supplements
  • Substances such as alcohol, nicotine, and illicit drugs such as cocaine and amphetamines

Even with so many possible causes, sometimes the cause of heart palpitations in unknown.

What to Do About Heart Palpitations

Though you more than likely don’t need to take any action, if you experience heart palpitations and are concerned, it’s a good idea to make note of them for future discussions with your doctor. Each time you experience a pounding heart, write down the date and time, what you were doing when they started, how long the heart palpitations last and what symptoms you felt.

If you’re concerned about your racing heart, there are lifestyle changes that may help. Stop smoking, avoid alcohol, caffeinated beverages and spicy food, and reduce stress with activities like yoga or meditation.

If you see your doctor about your heart palpitations, you can expect to review your medical history as well as your current diet, exercise and medications. Your physician may perform blood or urine tests, a stress test and an electrocardiogram (ECG/EKG/heart ultrasound) or chest X-ray. You may also be asked to wear a heart monitor to collect data about your heart palpitations.

When to Seek Emergency Care

A pounding heart is usually not cause for concern, but they can occasionally point to a more serious condition. Seek emergency medical treatment if you experience the following along with heart palpitations:

  • Fainting or the feeling that you’re going to pass out
  • Dizziness, confusion or lightheadedness
  • Trouble breathing or shortness of breath
  • Pain or pressure in your chest
  • Tightness in your chest, neck, arm, upper back or jaw
  • Unusual sweating, even when it’s not warm

At Avail Hospital, our emergency physicians are trained to assess heart palpitations and treat any life-threatening heart emergency, so come in if you’re experiencing troubling symptoms along with heart palpitations. We’re here to help you and your heart.

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