Understanding heart palpitations


Understanding heart palpitations

The noticeable sensation of your heart racing or pounding can be a scary feeling.  This awareness of your heart beating is known as heart palpitations.  Heart palpitations are a perception of your heart skipping a beat or adding an extra beat.  Individuals often describe them as a feeling of the heart fluttering, racing or about to jump out of their chest.  Normally most of us do not notice our heart beating but those with heart palpitations become overly aware of their heartbeat and some even can feel the sensation in their neck, throat, or chest.

Causes of heart palpitations

Most of us have probably experienced moments of minor heart palpitations.  They can come on unexpectedly and many of us will have an isolated incidence of the heart beating more forcefully than usual for a few seconds due to a small rush of adrenaline coursing through their body.

Other causes of heart palpitations can include:

·      Strong emotions such as anger, fear, stress, or excitement

·      Stimulants such as consuming a beverage containing caffeine

·      Imbibing in alcohol or marijuana

·      Taking cold and cough medications containing the stimulant pseudoephedrine

·      Fever

·      Hormone changes associated with menstruation, pregnancy or menopause

·      Taking some asthma inhaler medications that contain a stimulant

Heart palpitations can also be a sign of a serious problem such as an overactive thyroid gland (hyperthyroidism) or an abnormal heart rhythm (arrhythmia).

Premature contraction of the aorta is another common source of heart palpitations. Sometimes the upper chambers of the heart squeeze a fraction of a second earlier than normal.  If this happens, in order to get back in rhythm, the upper chambers will rest an instant longer making it feel like a skipped beat.  Then there can be a noticeably forceful contraction as the ventricles clear out the extra blood that accumulated when the chambers were at rest.   This occurrence is considered benign and is not life-threatening or a sign of a heart attack.

When to take heart palpitations seriously

Usually there are few risks associated with heart palpitations.  But for someone with a heart condition, then it could become more serious with possible complications.  These could include the following:

·      Anyone with a heart rhythm problem.  Anytime someone suddenly begins noticing the sensation of heart palpitations or irregular heartbeats becoming more frequent and regular, they need to see their doctor. 

·      Fainting can happen when the heart is beating rapidly causing blood pressure to drop.  For anyone with congenital heart disease or certain heart valve problems, this could increase this risk.

·      If the palpitations are caused by atrial fibrillation, blood can pool causing clots to form.  If a clot breaks loose it can cause a stroke by blocking an artery to the brain.

·      Atrial fibrillation can also lead to heart failure when the heart is pumping ineffectively for a long period of time due to arrhythmias.

Treating heart palpitations

The only time heart palpitations are treated is if a doctor finds you have a heart condition.  Otherwise, any treatment is rarely required as most heart palpitations go away within time.  The only recommendation usually made is to avoid triggers that may be causing heart palpitations to begin with. 

Some lifestyle changes a person can try to reduce the incidence of heart palpitations include:

·      Reducing stress and anxiety by using relaxation techniques such as meditation, yoga, or deep breathing

·      Avoid substances with stimulants in them.  Caffeine, nicotine, some cold medications and energy drinks can lead to heart palpitations

·      Using illegal drugs such as cocaine and amphetamines should always be avoided as they can cause heart palpitations