Heart Palpitations
Fluttering, Skipped Or Rapid Heartbeats

what are heart palpitations?


Heart Palpitations


What Is A Heart Palpitation?
What Can Trigger Palpitations?
What Is The Difference Between Heart Palpitations And Arrhythmias?
When Does It Indicate A Heart Problem?
What Will A Doctor Do?
When Is It A Medical Emergency?
What Is A Panic Attack?
Are Heart Palpitations During Pregnancy Common?
What Are The Causes Of Palpitations After Eating?

Guide To Irregular Heartbeats
Heart Arrhythmia

What Is A Heart Palpitation?

A palpitation is medically defined as an awareness or feeling in the chest of your heartbeat or a sensation of having forceful rapid heartbeats. Your heart may feel like it is pounding, fluttering or beating irregularly. This sensation lasts between a few seconds and a few minutes. It can also radiate to the neck or throat. While palpitations may be alarming they are not usually a sign of a heart problem. Occasionally you may even experience the sensation of a skipped or extra heartbeat. This is known as an ectopic beat, again this is very common and nothing to worry about.

What Can Trigger Palpitations?

Most ectopic heartbeats feel like a fluttering or thumping in the chest. They usually occur at rest and can be caused by:

1. Excess caffeine consumption.
2. Smoking.
3. Drinking too much alcohol.
4. Herbal remedies which contain ephedrine or ephedra.
5.Over the counter cough and cold medicines, particularly those containing pseudoephedrine.
6. Diet pills.
7. Allergic reaction or sensitivity to certain foods.
8. Reaction to some medicines such as asthma inhalers or pills for thyroid problems.
9. PMS - some women experience palpitations during before or during their periods. This is hormone based.
10. Menopause - it may be a temporary menopause symptom, again linked to hormones. Read how menopause affects the body.

Palpitations can also occur:
1. During times of stress.
2. After having a frightening experience.
3. Following strenuous exercise.

Medical Conditions
The following medical conditions can also trigger palpitations:
1. Low blood sugar levels (more common to diabetics).
2. Fever.
3. Anemia - a reduced level of iron in the blood.
4. Overactive thyroid - hyperthyroidism speeds up the heart rate.
5. Dehydration.
For more details, see also: causes of arrhythmias. And for other topical questions see womens health questions.

What Is The Difference Between Heart Palpitations And Arrhythmias?

A cardiac arrhythmia is a medical condition whereby the electrical impulses in the heart are affected, causing an irregular heartbeat. There are different types of arrhythmias, some more dangerous than others. While palpitations may be one of the symptoms of arrhythmias, most palpitations, as discussed above, are not due to arrhythmias - rather they are triggered by more benign causes like drinking too much coffee.

When Do Palpitations Indicate A Heart Problem?

If you start to experience palpitations more often, or have any of the following symptoms, talk to your doctor. It may be a sign of a heart rhythm problem (arrhythmia).

Have you:
• Fainted or blacked out during exercise, or while emotional or after a fright?
• Fainted after exercise?
• Experienced extreme shortness of breath during exercise?
• Felt pain or pressure in your chest during exercise? (signs of chest pain).
• Felt extremely tired after exercise, more so than other people of your age or fitness level?
• Been diagnosed with having fits or seizures?
• Ever been recommended heart tests by your doctor?
• Been diagnosed with epilepsy which failed to respond to drugs?
• Experienced exercise induced asthma that did not respond to drugs?
• Had any family members who died suddenly, and unexplained, before the age of 50? (Including cot deaths, drowning or car accidents).
• Had anyone in the family die of sudden cardiac arrest before the age of 50?
• Had anyone in the family who experienced unexplained seizures?

Do you have relatives with any of the following conditions:

• A pacemaker or implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD).
Heart attack before the age of 50.
• Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy: thickening of the heart muscle.
• Long QT syndrome: the heart beats very fast with an abnormal heart rhythm that can cause fainting.
• Short QT syndrome: condition you are born with (congenital). It is an abnormality in the electrical system in the heart.
• Brugada syndrome: rare genetic condition which causes a fast heartbeat. It can also affect blood circulation.
• Marfan syndrome: inherited genetic condition that affects the connective tissues in the body.

What Will A Doctor Do?

Arrhythmia diagnosis: Your doctor will take a complete medical history, asking many of the questions outlined above. He will also ask you to explain your symptoms and when and how often they occur. He will take your blood pressure, temperature, pulse and breathing rate. If he suspects that there could be a problem he may order any of the following diagnostic tests:
Electrocardiogram (image)
Holter Monitor (image)
Event Monitor
Echocardiogram (image)
Electrophysiology study (EPS)

If your doctor rules out any serious causes, try not to pay any attention to your palpitations, unless you notice they start to appear more frequently. He might advise you to make some lifestyle changes which may help reduce your palpitations. This includes cutting down on caffeine, alcohol and managing your levels of stress. If you have any arrhythmia risk factors, he might also advise on making lifestyle adjustments in accordance with coronary heart disease prevention.

When Is It A Medical Emergency?

Call 911 immediately if:
You or someone else loses consciousness (even if they regain it).
You have chest pain, shortness of breath, unusual sweating, lightheadedness or dizziness.
In an emergency situation your heart rhythm will be closely monitored and arrhythmia treatment instigated immediately if necessary.

Call a doctor immediately if:
You feel frequent extra heartbeats - that is, more than 6 extra heartbeats a minute, or if they come in groups of 3 or more.
You develop a new or different type of palpitation.
Your pulse increases to more than 100 beats a minute, at rest, without fear or anxiety.
You have risk factors for heart disease, such as high blood pressure or cholesterol.

What Is A Panic Attack?

If you experience palpitations on a regular basis and they are accompanied by feelings of anxiety, stress and panic, you be having panic attacks. While panic attacks can be scary and intense, they are not dangerous.

Are Heart Palpitations During Pregnancy Common?

Yes, very common. Heart murmurs, palpitations and even temporary arrhythmias are common during pregnancy. This is because pregnancy places extra demand on the heart. The volume of blood sloshing around the body increases by up to 50 percent. While most palpitations are quite harmless and disappear again after childbirth, some can be a sign of anemia (see, anemia in pregnancy). Always discuss any concerns you have with your pregnancy healthcare team. See also: Heart disease during pregnancy.

What Are The Causes Of Palpitations After Eating?

Some people develop palpitations after eating a heavy meal, particularly after a meal with lots of carbs, fat or sugar. Sometimes foods which contain high levels of salt, nitrates and monosodium glutamate (MSG) can also trigger an attack. Eating a healthier diet will normally reduce episodes. If experience an attack after eating other types of foods, it likely that you have a food sensitivity. Foods containing soy for example are one common trigger. Try keeping a food diary to help you identify your personal cause.

  Related Articles on Heart Palpitations

For more heart-related facts, see the following:

Antiarrhythmics: Class of medicines to treat arrhythmia.
Arrhythmia prevention: How to reduce your risks.
Chest pain in women: Causes, symptoms and treatments.

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