Woman experiencing heart palpitations

What Causes Heart Palpitations?

  • Posted on: Aug 15 2019
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Are heart palpitations always a sign of something serious?

Every wannabe romance writer has written at least one, if not dozens, of scenes involving hearts that skip a beat, flutter or feel like they want to leap out of some infatuated character’s chest. This can be very effective at drawing in the audience and conveying strong emotions in literature and on-screen, but it is not particularly pleasant in everyday, real life. 

When those described sensations are actually experienced, it is known as heart palpitations, and they can create a great deal of anxiety if the individual has no idea what may be the cause. The good news is that, while heart palpitation should not be ignored, there is a good chance that the underlying cause may not relate to a serious condition. 

Heart palpitations can feel like they are coming from the heart area of the chest or they may be felt in the neck or throat. They can come on suddenly with no warning and may start while moving around or sitting still doing absolutely nothing. They are experienced differently from one person to the next: some describe pounding or racing, while others a flutter or missed heartbeat. Some people feel like their hearts add a beat or have trouble describing the feeling but just know that something is off. 

Heart Palpitation Possible Causes

There are a wide range of physical, emotional and pharmacological causes for heart palpitations. Some of the more common ones include:

  • Emotional stress, such as those presenting as fear, anxiety or panic
  • Intense physical activity
  • Pregnancy and other periods of hormonal changes
  • Caffeine 
  • Alcohol 
  • Medical issues and conditions, such as thyroid imbalance, blood loss or anemia, low blood sugar, low levels of potassium, oxygen or carbon dioxide, fever, dehydration, shock
  • Certain medications: antibiotics, antifungal medicines, asthma inhalers, cough and cold medicines, diet pills, blood pressure medication, thyroid and antiarrhythmic medications, antipsychotic drugs and some nutritional supplements
  • Illegal drugs, like cocaine and amphetamines
  • Tobacco products containing nicotine
  • Heart disease
  • Cardiomyopathy – “weak heart”
  • Genetic abnormalities

If you suspect one of the above to be the cause of your palpitations, be sure to check with your healthcare professional.

Signs of a More Serious Problem Related to Heart Palpitations

Obviously, heart palpitations can be created by a variety of causes. They might even result from something you eat.  Who hasn’t experienced or know someone who has fallen victim to the well-known and dreaded reaction to MSG after eating some particularly delicious food at a new Chinese restaurant? Heart palpitations are often a major part of that experience, but this and most of those listed above are not related to something more serious going on.

How do you know how to tell the difference between palpitations that indicate a one-time and fairly minor reaction or one that should cause concern? It is always best to let your doctor make that determination, but some of the signs to watch for that indicate more urgency in seeking medical advice are when the palpitations are accompanied by:

  • Dizziness
  • Feelings of confusion
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Being light-headed
  • Losing consciousness 
  • Chest pain or pressure
  • Tightness in the upper body areas of the jaw, neck, arms, chest or back
  • Breaking out in a sweat

At Cardiovascular Wellness, our mission is to provide outstanding, timely and personalized care to all of our patients. We are committed to improving your quality of life by designing a comprehensive plan of heart care, individualized to your needs.

Information on locations and office hours for Cardiovascular Wellness can be found by clicking here.

Posted in: Heart Palpitations

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