What are heart palpitations and should you be concerned?

Written by: Top Doctors®
Published: | Updated: 25/02/2020
Edited by: Alex Rolandi

Heart palpitations occur when you can feel your own heartbeat as though it is pounding in your chest or fluttering lightly. This may last for a few seconds to several minutes. It may also feel like a skipped or extra heartbeat. In many cases heart palpitations are harmless, but sometimes they could be a sign of a more serious condition.

What causes heart palpitations?

Heart palpitations can occur for a number of reasons. These include:

  • Psychological triggers such as stress, anxiety, or fear
  • Excessive exercise exerting too much pressure on the heart
  • Certain stimulants such as coffee, tea, and energy drinks. Drugs such as cocaine and amphetamines may also cause heart palpitations
  • Alcohol
  • Smoking
  • Spicy food
  • Some medical conditions such as anaemia, hyperthyroidism, low blood pressure, and fever
  • Medications like diet pills, antihistamines, antidepressants, antibiotics, and asthma inhalers
  • Hormonal changes due to pregnancy, periods, and menopause

Heart conditions that can give rise to heart palpitations are:

  • Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy
  • Congenital heart disease
  • Heart valve problems such as mitral valve prolapse
  • Heart failure
  • Problems with the heart muscle
  • Atrial fibrillation


When should you worry about heart palpitations?

Most the time heart palpitations occur only occasionally and for short periods of time. If this is the case, it is unlikely they are the sign of a more serious underlying health condition. However, it is recommendable to get in touch with a GP or specialist if the heart palpitations last a long while, you have a history of heart problems, or you are worried about your heart palpitations.

In some cases, emergency medical attention may be required. It is advisable to call 999 if your heart palpitations are accompanied by shortness of breath, trouble breathing, chest pain, or dizziness.

In order to determine what causes heart palpitations, a doctor will carry out a physical examination and check your medical history, as well as ask questions about diet and lifestyle, and when the heart palpitations generally happen.

There are various tests available in order to make a diagnosis. These include blood tests, electrocardiogram, echocardiogram, X-ray, and Holter monitoring.


Treating heart palpitations

Treatment of heart palpitations depends on what causes them. In most cases, as heart palpitations are generally harmless, there may be no need for treatment. If a specific cause cannot be found, the doctor may recommend some lifestyle changes. These might include:

  • Methods to reduce stress and anxiety such as aromatherapy and yoga
  • Cutting down on alcohol, tobacco, caffeine, and illegal drugs
  • Avoiding certain medications such as antihistamines that can have a stimulating effect



By Topdoctors

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