Heart Palpitations

Palpitations make you feel like your heart is beating too hard or too fast, skipping a beat, or fluttering. You may notice heart palpitations in your chest, throat, or neck.

They can be bothersome or frightening. They usually aren't serious or harmful, though, and often go away on their own. Most of the time, they're caused by stress and anxiety, or because you’ve had too much caffeine, nicotine, or alcohol. They can also happen when you’re pregnant.

In rare cases, palpitations can be a sign of a more serious heart condition. So, if you have heart palpitations, see your doctor. Get immediate medical attention if they come with:

After your doctor takes your medical history and looks you over, he may order tests to find the cause. If he finds one, the right treatment can reduce or get rid of the palpitations.

If there’s no underlying cause, lifestyle changes can help, including stress management.

Causes

There can be many. Usually, palpitations are either related to your heart or the cause is unknown. Non-heart-related causes include:

Some people have palpitations after heavy meals rich in carbohydrates, sugar, or fat. Sometimes, eating foods with a lot of monosodium glutamate (MSG), nitrates, or sodium can bring them on, too.

If you have heart palpitations after eating certain foods, it could be due to food sensitivity. Keeping a food diary can help you figure out which foods to avoid.

They can also be related to heart disease. When they are, they’re more likely to represent arrhythmia. Heart conditions tied to palpitations include:

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At the Doctor’s Office

Your doctor will:

  • Give you a physical exam
  • Take down your medical history
  • Want to know about your current medications, diet, and lifestyle
  • Ask for specifics about when, how often, and under what circumstances your palpitations occur

Sometimes, a blood test can help your doctor find the cause of your palpitations. Other useful tests include:

Electrocardiogram (EKG): This can be done while you’re at rest or exercising. The latter is called a stress EKG. In both cases, the test records your heart's electrical signals and can find unusual heart rhythms.

Holter monitoring : You’ll wear a monitor on your chest. It continuously records your heart's electrical signals for 24 to 48 hours. It can identify rhythm differences that weren't picked up during an EKG.

Event recording: You’ll wear a device on your chest and use a handheld gadget to record your heart's electrical signals when symptoms occur.

Chest X-ray: Your doctor will check for changes in your lungs that could come from heart problems. For example, if he finds fluid in your lungs, it may come from heart failure.

Echocardiogram: This is an ultrasound of your heart. It provides detailed information about its structure and function.

If necessary, your doctor may refer you to a cardiologist for more tests or treatment.

Treatment

This depends on their cause. Often, palpitations are harmless and go away on their own. In that case, no treatment is needed.

If your doctor doesn't find a cause, he may advise you to avoid the things that might trigger the palpitations. Strategies may include:

Easing anxiety and stress. Common ways include:

Cutting out certain foods, beverages, and other substances. These may include:

  • Alcohol
  • Nicotine
  • Caffeine
  • Illegal drugs

Avoiding medications that act as stimulants. You may have to steer clear of:

If lifestyle changes don’t help, you may be prescribed medications. In some cases, these will be beta-blockers or calcium-channel blockers.

If your doctor finds a reason for your palpitations, he will focus on treating that reason.

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If they’re caused by a medication, he will try to find a different treatment.

If they represent an arrhythmia, you may get medications or procedures. You may also be referred to a heart rhythm specialist known as an electrophysiologist.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by James Beckerman, MD, FACC on July 09, 2015

Sources

SOURCES:

FamilyDoctor.org: "Palpitations."

National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute: "What Are Palpitations?" "What Causes Palpitations?" "How Are Palpitations Treated?"

Pregnancyandchildcare.org: "Heart Palpitations During Pregnancy."

WomensHeart.org: "Cardiac Arrhythmia Management: Why Women are Different from Men."

Heart-palpitations.net: "Heart Pounding After Eating."

Mayo Clinic: “Chest X-Rays: Why it’s done.”

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