Palpitations are when you can feel your heart flutter or beat loudly in your chest. It may be normal, slower or faster than usual.

By Wallace Health I Medically reviewed by Adrian Roberts.
Page last reviewed: October 2018 I Next review due: October 2021

What are palpitations?

Palpitations describe the sensation of being aware of your heart beating loudly in your chest. Your heart rate may be faster or slower than normal or may skip a beat.

It’s very common and for most people there’s nothing to worry about. There are many everyday causes, such as doing something strenuous, getting anxious or excited, even drinking a lot of caffeine in a short period of time.

Sometimes there doesn’t seem to be any cause and your palpitations quickly pass with no ill effects.

However, for some people, palpitations can be a sign of a heart problem or disease and should be checked out.

How to tell if you have palpitations

Palpitations can feel like some or all of the following:

  • Your heart beats faster or slower than usual
  • Fluttering or pounding in your chest
  • Extra (ectopic) beats, sometimes followed by a longer pause
  • Missed beats

This will usually pass in a few moments.

If your palpitations are a sign of something more serious, you’ll usually have other symptoms, like feeling breathless or dizzy.

Talk to your doctor if you’re concerned about symptoms

You can book an appointment with a Spire private GP today.

Diagnosis and tests for palpitations

See your doctor if palpitations happen more often, or you’re worried.

They may suggest a test to check your heart rhythm, called an ECG (electrocardiogram).

If symptoms become suddenly worse, or you have chest pains, you should seek urgent medical attention.

Causes of palpitations

Palpitations happen because of a blip in your heart’s natural pacemaker, which sends electrical signals to make your heart beat with a steady rhythm.

Everyday causes of heart palpitations include:

  • Alcohol, caffeine and recreational drugs
  • Anxiety, stress or excitement
  • Some medications
  • Tobacco

Some medical conditions that cause palpitations are:

  • Panic attacks
  • Pregnancy
  • Menopause
  • Over-active thyroid
  • Hypoglycaemia

Less commonly, they can be a sign of underlying heart conditions, such as:

  • Atrial fibrillation
  • Atrial flutter

Common treatments for palpitations

Usually, palpitations won’t require any treatment. However, if they’re due to a medical condition, then your doctor will recommend appropriate treatments.