Does your heart unexpectedly start to race or pound, or feel like it keeps skipping beats? These sensations are called heart palpitations. For most people, heart palpitations are a once-in-a-blue-moon occurrence. Others have dozens a day, sometimes so strong that they feel like a heart attack.
If you notice a heartbeat, the heart seems to be working unusually: either beating too fast or too slow, skipping a beat or adding an extra one, or pounding and throbbing. These sensations are called palpitations.
Your heart may feel like it’s pounding, fluttering or beating irregularly, often for just a few seconds or minutes. You may also feel these sensations in your throat or neck. Heart palpitations may seem alarming, but in most cases they’re harmless and aren’t a sign of a serious problem. Most go away on their own.
Sometimes you may feel an extra or missed beat. These are known as ectopic beats and are also usually nothing to worry about.
Causes of heart palpitations
You may feel palpitations in your chest, throat, or neck during activity or when you are sitting still or lying down. Causes include:
- Strong emotions such as anxiety, depression
- Physical activity such as running, weight lifting
- Medications such as salbutamol, hydralazine
- Hormonal changes such as menopause, pregnancy
- Alcohol, caffiene, smoking
- Illegal drugs such as cocaine, heroin
- Medical conditions such as thyroid disease, low blood sugar, anemia, and low blood pressure also may cause palpitations.
- Heart conditions such as heart attack, heart failure, heart valve disease.
Heart palpitations symptoms
Different people experience heart palpitations in different ways. Symptoms include heart:
- murmuring, or pounding
- the heart skips a beat
- pounding in the chest or neck
- general feeling of uneasiness
- beating too fast or too slow,
- skipping a beat or adding an extra one
Seek emergency medical attention if heart palpitations are accompanied by:
- Chest discomfort or pain
- Severe shortness of breath
- Severe dizziness
- the palpitations last a long time, don’t improve or get worse
Your doctor will perform a physical exam and possibly other tests. These tests may include an electrocardiogram or event monitor to study your heart’s activity. Treatment for palpitations will depend on the cause.
How to stop heart palpitations
If you have unexplained palpitations, start with the simple things first:
- Don’t smoke.
- Cut back on alcohol, or stop drinking.
- Make sure you eat regularly (low blood sugar can cause heart palpitations).
- Drink plenty of fluids.
- Get enough sleep.
- Meditation and relaxation exercise such as yoga
You also may prevent palpitations by treating any other medical condition that may be causing them.