What are Heart Palpitations?

If you experience heart palpitations, it can be worrisome, but knowing how to prevent them can make life less stressful. Heart palpitations refer to the feeling of having a fast, fluttering or pounding heart. The good news is they are usually not a sign of a more serious condition and simple lifestyle changes can go a long way in improvement.

Symptoms of Heart Palpitations

Heart palpitations can have several symptoms, including:

  1. Rapid, fluttering, or pounding heartbeats
  2. Skipping, fluttering, or jumping sensations in the chest
  3. Dizziness, lightheadedness, or fainting

The palpitations can be felt in the neck as well as the chest. These symptoms can be experienced as a single episode or as a recurring pattern. It can also range from a few seconds to a few minutes.

Causes and Risk Factors of Heart Palpitations

There are numerous factors that can cause palpitations:

  • Stress
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Exercise
  • Stimulants such as caffeine and nicotine
  • Fever
  • Low blood sugar
  • Medication use

There are also several risk factors, including:

  • Age
  • Medical conditions (overactive thyroid, low potassium levels, and heart disease can increase your risk)
  • Certain medications
  • Substance use (caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine)
  • Stress and anxiety
  • Family history
  • Hormonal changes (women may be more likely to experience heart palpitations during pregnancy or menopause)

Complications

Potential complications of heart palpitations include:

  1. Arrhythmias: Heart palpitations can be a symptom of an irregular heartbeat if left untreated.
  2. Blood clots: An irregular heartbeat can cause blood clots to form. This can increase the risk of stroke or other conditions.
  3. Decreased quality of life
  4. Cardiac arrest
  5. Heart failure

When to see a Doctor

You should see a doctor if your heart palpitations are:

  • Frequent
  • Severe
  • Accompanied by other symptoms
  • New or different
  • Persistent

Furthermore, if your palpitations are accompanied by other symptoms like chest pain, shortness of breath, fainting, or dizziness, consider going to the doctor.

When at the Doctor’s Office

There are specific tests that your doctor may recommend based on your symptoms and medical history, but the most common are:

  1. Physical examination
  2. Electrocardiogram (ECG): records the electrical activity of your heart and can help detect any abnormal heart rhythms.
  3. Holter monitor: a portable device that you wear for 24 to 48 hours to continuously monitor your heart rhythm.
  4. Event monitor: a portable device that you wear for an extended period of time and that activates when you experience symptoms.
  5. Blood tests: Your doctor may want to check for underlying conditions contributing to your symptoms.
  6. Echocardiogram: a test that uses ultrasound to produce images of your heart and identify any structural abnormalities.
  7. Tilt table test: a test that helps determine if your heart palpitations are related to changes in your body position.

It is important to follow your doctor’s recommendations to properly diagnose and treat your condition.

Treatment

In some cases, surgery may be helpful to reduce or stop palpitations. However, the main treatments are lifestyle changes and medication.

The lifestyle changes needed are reliant on stress management. Simple changes in your everyday routine such as improving sleeping habits and avoiding caffeine and alcohol may reduce palpitations and lead to increased heart health.

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