Heart palpitations are quite common but are usually not anything serious, even though they can be disconcerting.
Here we’ll discuss what you need to know about heart palpitations, including when to talk to your GP.
Heart palpitations describe the feeling of being aware of your heart beating loudly. Your heart rate may become faster or slower than normal, or skip a beat.
While palpitations can cause concern, they are very common, usually stop on their own and in the majority of cases are not a sign that anything is wrong.
Your heart may feel as if it is pounding, fluttering or racing. You may feel this sensation in your chest, neck or throat, or if you’re lying down, in your ears.
Heart palpitations generally last for seconds or minutes but sometimes can last for hours at a time.
There are several different triggers for heart palpitations, including:
Emotional factors and heart palpitations
In these cases, breathing exercises can help you push past the emotional triggers and stop your palpitations. It is also a good idea to deal with the issues causing your stress and anxiety so you can avoid further palpitations.
Heart conditions and heart palpitations
Underlying heart conditions can cause palpitations in some cases. These include:
If you have a heart condition and experience palpitations, you should see your GP.
Heart rhythm issues and heart palpitations
Palpitations can be caused by changes to your regular heartbeat called arrhythmia.
There are several different types of arrhythmia, including:
Hormone changes and heart palpitations
Changes in your hormone levels can cause heart palpitations, although they will usually go away on their own when your hormones stop fluctuating.
Hormone changes can be caused by:
Lifestyle factors and heart palpitations
Lifestyle factors, such as lack of sleep, strenuous exercise and drinking caffeinated drinks, can cause heart palpitations. They can also be brought on by eating spicy or carbohydrate-rich foods, alcohol, smoking and illegal drug use.
Dehydration can also cause heart palpitations, so it is important to stay hydrated throughout the day, especially if you often experience palpitations.
If you notice that something in your lifestyle often triggers your heart palpitations, cutting it out can reduce your palpitations.
Medications and heart palpitations
Certain medications can trigger heart palpitations. However, you shouldn’t stop taking your medication without first speaking to your GP. Your GP may change your dose or prescribe you an alternative medication.
Medicines that can cause heart palpitations include:
Other conditions and heart palpitations
Several other health conditions that can cause heart palpitations include:
If you only get palpitations occasionally or they only last a short time, they are not usually a cause for concern.
You should see your GP about heart palpitations if they last a long time, don’t improve or get worse over time. It is also a good idea to talk to your GP if you have a history of heart problems.
In some cases, palpitations can be accompanied by other symptoms, which could be a sign of a more serious condition. These symptoms include:
If your heart palpitations are accompanied by any of the above symptoms, you should seek emergency treatment.
Your GP will try to identify the cause of your heart palpitations. To help, keep a diary on what your palpitations feel like, when they happen and how long they last.
To reach a diagnosis, your GP will ask about your symptoms and medical history, and may perform a physical exam and in some cases, measure your heart rate and rhythm with an electrocardiogram (ECG).
They may ask about lifestyle factors too, such as your:
If your GP thinks there could be an underlying heart condition causing your heart palpitations, they may refer you to a heart specialist called a cardiologist. Your cardiologist may run other tests to rule out a range of conditions.
Tests can include blood tests to check your blood cell levels, hormone levels and electrolytes, as well as:
In many cases, treatment is not needed for heart palpitations. If treatment is needed, it will depend on your symptoms, how often they occur and what is causing them.
If your palpitations are caused by your emotions, breathing techniques and other activities to help you stay calm can help. If your palpitations are caused by avoidable lifestyle factors, such as drinking too much caffeine or alcohol or using illegal drugs, your doctor will recommend avoiding these triggers. If medication is causing your palpitations, your doctor may be able to prescribe alternative medication.
If your GP thinks that medication is needed to reduce recurrent heart palpitations, they may prescribe antiarrhythmic drugs.
When arrhythmia is the cause of your palpitations, you may need to have a procedure, such as:
If you have regular palpitations with no identifiable cause, try to stay hydrated and remain calm when your palpitations start. Relaxing and deep breathing can help them dissipate faster. You may also want to discuss possible supplements that could help with your GP.
You can also reduce your chances of experiencing heart palpitations by:
If you're concerned about symptoms you're experiencing or require further information on the subject, talk to a GP or see an expert consultant at your local Spire hospital.
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