Heart palpitations: Should you be worried?


Have you ever felt your heart skip a beat or suddenly start racing? The sensation you felt is a heart palpitation, and while they are typically normal, some heart palpitations may be a sign that something else is going on in your body. 

Different people describe the feeling of heart palpitations in different ways. For some, they may feel like a flutter, while others say it feels like their heart is flip-flopping in their chest. For others, heart palpitations feel more like throbbing or pounding. 

In most cases, heart palpitations are rare and mild, but some people experience frequent palpitations so strong that they may be confused with a heart attack. 
What causes heart palpitations?
Palpitations can come and go suddenly and may be triggered by stress, anxiety or panic. They can also be the result of too much caffeine, chocolate or alcohol. Some people experience palpitations during exercise, when swallowing or even from doing something as simple as standing up. 

Other common heart palpitation triggers include:

  • Dehydration
  • Low potassium
  • Low blood sugar
  • Anemia
  • Overactive thyroid
  • Pregnancy
  • Menopause
  • Hormonal changes
  • Acid reflux
  • Food allergy or sensitivity
  • Too much sodium
  • Nicotine use
  • Fever
  • History of heart attack
  • Mitral valve prolapse (a condition in which a valve in the heart does not close properly)
  • Use of certain drugs or medications 
  • Use of dietary supplements such as ephedra, ginseng, valerian, hawthorn or bitter orange

Heart palpitations can also be the result of problems in the upper or lower chamber of the heart, such as atrial fibrillation (irregular and/or rapid heartbeat) and supraventricular tachycardia (fast heart rate). Problems with the sinus node, which is responsible for setting the pace for your heart rate, can also cause palpitations.

What to do if you're experiencing heart palpitations  
In most cases, the occasional heart palpitation is nothing to worry about. However, if you experience frequent, long-lasting or painful palpitations, or if your palpitations are accompanied by shortness of breath, fainting or other symptoms, you should see your healthcare provider. 

To help your provider diagnose your palpitations, make a note of what you’re doing when the palpitations occur, whether they start and stop suddenly and whether your heart rate is fast, slow or irregular when you have palpitations. Also, note any other symptoms that accompany the palpitations. Be sure your doctor has a list of all medications and supplements you are taking.
Before you worry about your heart palpitations, cut down on caffeine and alcohol intake. Stop smoking, drink plenty of water, be sure you’re eating regularly and getting enough sleep. 

If your palpitations continue or are interrupting your daily life by causing you stress or pain, schedule an appointment with a healthcare provider at Goshen Physicians