Heart palpitations are a feeling that 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.
Heart palpitations 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 related to stress and anxiety or to consumption of stimulants such as caffeine, nicotine, or alcohol. Palpitations also often occur during pregnancy.
Atherosclerosis -- hardening and narrowing of the arteries -- gets a lot of bad press but with good reason. This progressive process silently and slowly blocks arteries, putting blood flow at risk.
Atherosclerosis is the usual cause of heart attacks, strokes, and peripheral vascular disease -- what together are called "cardiovascular disease." Cardiovascular disease is the No. 1 killer in America, with more than 800,000 deaths in 2005.
How does atherosclerosis develop? Who gets it, and...
In rare cases, palpitations can be a sign of a more serious heart condition. Therefore, if you have heart palpitations, make arrangements to see your doctor. And seek immediate medical attention if along with palpitations, you experience shortness of breath, dizziness, chest pain, or fainting.
After taking your medical history and conducting a physical exam, your doctor may order tests that can either confirm or rule out an underlying cause. If an underlying cause is found, the right treatment can reduce or eliminate palpitations. If your palpitations are not related to an underlying cause, lifestyle changes, including stress management and the avoidance of common triggers, can help prevent them.
Causes of Heart Palpitations
Many things can cause heart palpitations. In the vast majority of cases, the cause is either related to your heart or is unknown. Non-heart-related causes of palpitations include:
Some people experience palpitations after eating heavy meals that are rich in carbohydrates, sugar, or fat. Sometimes, eating foods with high levels of monosodium glutamate (MSG), nitrates, or sodium can bring them on.
If you have heart palpitations after eating certain foods, the problem could be food sensitivity. Keeping a food diary can help you identify which foods to avoid.
Palpitations can also be related to underlying heart disease. When they are, palpitations are more likely to represent arrhythmia. Heart conditions associated with palpitations include: