Songwriters have used phrases like “skipped a beat,” “racing,” “pounding,” and “fluttering” to describe the effect that love has on the heart. These are the same words doctors could use to describe potentially worrisome heart palpitations.
Palpitations are usually harmless. Exercise, stress, medication, or even caffeine can provoke palpitations. If they happen frequently or last for longer periods, it could be an indicator of a more serious heart condition like an irregular heartbeat, an overactive thyroid, or heart disease.
What You’re Feeling
Palpitations feel just like they’re described in love songs, but if you’ve never had one before, it could be alarming. Your heart may feel like it’s:
• Skipping beats
• Fluttering rapidly
• Beating too fast
The feelings aren’t always limited to the heart. Some people have reported feeling palpitations elsewhere in the chest or their neck. They have also been reported as a general sense of unease. Palpitations can appear suddenly and disappear just as quickly. Potential triggers include:
• Low potassium
• Low blood sugar
• Too much alcohol
Risks for a Racing Heart
Everyone has the potential for heart palpitations. There’s a good chance you’ve felt them yourself. There are some risk factors, however, that can contribute to developing palpitations. They include:
• Being highly stressed
• Having an anxiety disorder
• Regular panic attacks
• Being pregnant
• Taking cold or asthma medicines containing stimulants
• An overactive thyroid
• Being anemic
• Having heart problems
When to See a Doctor
Most palpitations happen infrequently and last just a few seconds. Take note of when they happen because there might be a triggering event, and that could be worth mentioning at your next checkup. Seek medical attention if there is a family history of heart disease, if palpitations happen with increasing frequency, or become more forceful. Get emergency help if the palpitations include:
• Chest pain
• Severe shortness of breath
• Severe dizziness
The heart palpitations could be a sign of anemia, an overactive thyroid gland, or an irregular heartbeat, also called an arrhythmia.
Types of Arrhythmia
Arrhythmia is classified by the type of heartbeat and where they occur. If you go to your regular doctor, you may be referred to a specialist, called a cardiologist, who may send you home with a device to monitor your heart rate. You could have to use the monitor for just a few days, but in some cases, you may need to use or wear it for over a month. The doctor monitors your heart and then uses that information to tell if the arrhythmia is one of the following:
• Atrial fibrillation — This is the most common type of arrhythmia. The result can be an erratic heartbeat that interferes with blood flow. It could lead to serious clotting conditions or stroke. There may be no symptoms, or chest pain, palpitations, and shortness of breath.
• Supraventricular tachycardia — A rapid heart rate above the lower heart chambers. Symptoms include an overly fast pulse and dizziness.
• Ventricular tachycardia — This rapid heartbeat starts in the lower heart chambers. It can cause a loss of consciousness and sometimes cardiac arrest and sudden death when associated with heart disease.
Dealing with Palpitations
Palpitations typically aren’t a cause for concern. They can still be bothersome, but there are some simple ways to deal with them.
• Don’t smoke and quit if you do.
• Cut back on alcohol or quit altogether.
• Eat regularly as low blood sugar can be a cause.
• Eat nutrient-rich foods
• Drink plenty of fluids.
• Get enough sleep.
• Ask your doctor or pharmacist to check your medications.
• Try meditation, yoga, tai chi, or other stress-relieving activities.
• Do deep breathing exercises.
We’re Here for You
AltaMed can help with health screenings to check for high blood pressure and cholesterol and to make sure your thyroid is working and your iron levels are where they need to be. If you have any concerns about your heart, or any other part of your body, we can answer those questions and get you the care you need.