Assessment of Heart Palpitations
Your doctor will conduct a physical examination, take your medical history, and ask about your current medications, diet, and lifestyle. The doctor also will ask when, how often, and under what circumstances palpitations occur.
Sometimes, a blood test can reveal the presence of anemia, electrolyte problems, or thyroid abnormalities and help identify the cause of palpitations. Other useful tests include:
- Electrocardiogram (ECG). An ECG can be done either while you are at rest or while you are exercising. The latter is called a stress ECG. An ECG records your heart's electrical signals and can detect abnormalities in the heart's rhythm.
- Holter monitoring. A Holter monitor is worn on the chest. It continuously records your heart's electrical signals for 24 to 48 hours. It can detect rhythm abnormalities that weren't identified during a regular ECG test.
- Event recording. An event recorder is worn on the chest. You use a handheld device to record the heart's electrical signals when symptoms occur.
- Chest X-ray.
- Echocardiogram. This is an ultrasound examination of the heart. It provides detailed information about the heart's structure and function.
If necessary, your doctor may refer you to a cardiologist for additional tests or treatment.
Treatment of Heart Palpitations
Treatment of heart palpitations depends on their cause. In most cases, palpitations are found to be harmless and often go away on their own. In those cases, no treatment is needed.
If palpitations are not due to an underlying condition, your doctor may advise you to avoid the things that trigger them. Strategies may include:
- Reducing anxiety and stress. Common stress-reducing therapies include relaxation exercises, yoga, tai chi, biofeedback, guided imagery, and aromatherapy.
- Avoiding certain foods, beverages, and substances. This may include alcohol, nicotine, caffeine, and illegal drugs.
- Avoiding medications that act as stimulants. These include cough and cold medicines, and certain herbal and nutritional supplements.
If lifestyle changes fail to reduce or eliminate palpitations, your doctor may prescribe certain medications. In some cases, beta-blockers or calcium-channel blockers are used.
If your doctor finds that your palpitations are related to an underlying condition, such as anemia, the focus will be on treating that condition. If the palpitations are caused by a medication, your doctor will try to find another medication you can use. If the palpitations represent an arrhythmia, medications or procedures may be required. You may also be referred to a heart rhythm specialist known as an electrophysiologist.