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.
I had no inkling I had heart disease until December 2005, when I had two minor episodes of mild angina (pain in the chest area). My primary care physician ran an electrocardiogram but saw nothing abnormal. I was an athletic, lean 53-year-old who ate nutritious foods. He decided I was just stressed and gave me the go-ahead to go to Nicaragua on vacation.
But while there, the angina went from mild to severe. The pain would come and go, but on three separate occasions the pain was the most massive...
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:
Strong emotions such as anxiety, fear, or stress; palpitations often occur during panic attacks.
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:
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.