What is a heart palpitation?

Johns Hopkins Medicine
Administration
Heart palpitations describe the experience of feeling as though the heart is pounding or racing, that the heartbeat is irregular or rapid or that the heart is skipping beats. Palpitations can be felt in the chest, throat and neck.
Many people experience palpitations at some point or another. They can be frightening, but they are not always dangerous.
Although not always a sign of a more serious condition, a palpitation does represent an abnormal heart rhythm (arrhythmia) and does require medical attention.
Palpitations can be caused by factors including:
  • Overexertion or exercise
  • Stress
  • Caffeine, alcohol, tobacco or diet pills.
  • Fever.
  • Overactive thyroid.
  • Anemia.
  • Hormone changes associated with menstruation, pregnancy or menopause.
  • Low blood pressure.
  • Heart disease or heart valve abnormalities.
  • Medications such as thyroid pills, cold medicines, asthma drugs, beta blockers for high blood pressure or heart disease, or anti-arrhythmics (medications for irregular heart rhythm).
Ketan Desai, DO
Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)

Palpitations is the term given to describe the sensation of an irregular heart beat (i.e. the feeling that your heart is skipping, fluttering, or beating too hard or too fast). Often palpitations are harmless and your heart is working normally. However, they can also imply that there is a disturbance in the normal coordinated electrical activity of the heart. The heart after all is just a pump and must rely on a normal synchronized electrical activity from the two main electrical centers of the heart for optimal function.

If there is a heart rhythm disturbance, it typically falls into one of three categories:

1. Benign abnormality often warranting no additional therapy.

2. Benign rhythm disturbances that may be suppressed using basic therapy or treatment of a secondary factor causing this abnormality, for example thyroid disease.

3. Malignant abnormality, which usually requires more aggressive workup and management.

The workup for palpitations will often include an echocardiogram (ultrasound of the heart) and/or an external electrical monitor of the heart such as a Holter monitor or event recorder.

SCAI
Administration

Heart palpitations are a temporary heart rhythm change that feels stronger, faster or more irregular than normal. Sometimes heart palpitations may be an indication of an underlying electrical problem with the heart. Fear, too much caffeine, some medications, or anxiety may make heart palpitations worse.

Palpitations might make you unusually aware of your heart because it is beating so strongly it may feel as if it is pounding. You may feel palpitations in your chest, throat and neck, and they may have a normal rhythmic pattern, or a variable rhythm. Palpitations are usually not serious; however, they sometimes signal an abnormal heart rhythm (called an arrhythmia). If they do, they need to be investigated by a heart specialist.

Westby G. Fisher, MD
Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)
A palpitation is an abnormality of heartbeat that causes a conscious awareness of its beating, whether it is too slow, too fast, irregular or at its normal frequency.
Lisa Palmer
Marriage & Family Therapy

When people suffer from heart palpitations right away many doctors want to put them on anxiety medications. But some medications for reducing anxiety, such as Xanax can have side effects of heart palpitations!

Ultimately there are two causes for heart palpitations--mental and/or physical. When we don't feel physically balanced and healthy, it makes everything worse. So you want to be on top of things. Make sure you are not having side effects from current medications you are talking. Make sure that your heart is healthy through routine testing and that your thyroid isn't abnormal. If you have symptoms get a few opinions. When your thyroid is out of whack it can cause feelings of imbalance, affect sleep, mood, weight, and other things. Sometimes people have a T3 T4 imbalance, so check with a doctor who is aware of this. Dr. Kenneth Blanchard, PhD, MD in Boston has written an amazing book called "What Your Doctor May Not Tell You About Hypothyroidism". Sometimes palpitations are caused by dehydration or low blood sugar, so eat healthy and regularly. Be balanced. Sometimes women may feel more palpitations at certain times of the month during their menstrual cycle due to hormonal shifts. Check in with your gynecologist or primary care doctor.

As far as mental health is concerned--anxiety is a main cause. Where does anxiety come from? The way we treat events that happen to us and how we think about them and our brain processes them. Maybe we are feeling emotionally flooded and our current ways of coping simply don't correctly handle the issue or eliminate the stress. Sometimes we have flashbacks or body memories because of a traumatic incident. In some cases, when we can't formulate or communicate what we need and want it builds up and affects our brains and bodies. Stinking thinking or worrying too much can be a sign of overload and that our minds can't handle everything happening. Of course all these reasons point to two main factors--how we relate to ourselves and to others and what is behind the anxiety. Sometimes anxiety is an action signal for us and gives us wisdom about something in our lives that needs to be corrected. So, instead of rushing to a pill for the solution, which may have side-effects, get to the root of the problem and fix it! Band-Aid solutions don't ultimately work in the long run to make you feel whole, complete, and balanced!

There are two types of heart palpitations. When you have extra adrenalin (you're scared, for example) you perceive your heart to pound harder. Some people call this a palpitation. In reality, this is a normal response to stress. The more important type of palpitation is when the heart is not pounding in a normal rhythm. Your heart rate is normally between 60 to 100 beats per minute (bpm). If it is slow (less than 60 bpm) or fast (more than 100 bpm), this is one kind of palpitation. If it is irregular, that is another kind of palpitation. These differences indicate to your doctor the seriousness of the palpitations.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.