Heart palpitations are a sensation of having a fast beating, fluttering or pounding heartbeat. Though heart palpitations can be troublesome, they are generally harmless. However, in very rare cases, it may be a symptom of a more serious heart problem like arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat) that need immediate treatment.
This sensation can be felt in the neck, throat or chest and the heart rhythm keeps altering during the palpitations. Stress, exercise, medication or sometimes a medical condition can trigger this problem. A diagnostic test called ambulatory arrhythmia monitoring can help the healthcare provider to distinguish benign from more malignant arrhythmias.
Some of the possible causes of heart palpitations include:
Overuse of caffeinated beverages or alcohol
Tobacco products like cigarettes, cigars, and other nicotine-containing products
Strong emotional responses like fear or panic or shock
Hormonal changes linked with menstruation, pregnancy or menopause
Low oxygen or carbon dioxide level
Excess use of over the counter (OTC) medications, including cold and cough medications, herbal and nutritional supplements
Prescription medications like asthma inhalers and decongestants
Abnormal heart valves
Though heart palpitations are harmless but they can also indicate a risk for underlying illness such as
A diagnosed heart problem
A defective heart valves
Generally, heart palpitations can experience like your heart is:
Beating too fast
A person may feel heart palpitations in the throat, neck or chest region and it can happen when you’re active or at rest.
Except for a heart condition that is causing heart palpitations, there is a low risk of any complications. For palpitations that are caused by a heart disorder, possible complication includes:
Fainting: If the heart beats very rapidly then blood pressure may fall low causing the person to faint. This indicates that a person may have a heart issue like congenital heart disease or certain valve disorders.
Cardiac Arrest: In very rare cases, palpitations can be caused due to life-threatening arrhythmias and can make the heart stop beating.
Stroke: If palpitations are caused due to a condition in which the upper chambers of the heart tremor instead of beating properly, then blood can pool and cause clots to form. These clots can block a brain artery leading to stroke.
Heart Failure: This can happen if the heart is pumping ineffectively for a longer period due to an arrhythmia, such as atrial fibrillation. At times, managing arrhythmia that is causing heart failure can improve the heart’s function.
The doctor will thoroughly listen to the heartbeat using a stethoscope and collect medical history. They may keenly look for signs of medical problems that can lead to palpitations like swollen thyroid glands. If the doctor suspects that palpitations are caused by arrhythmia or any other heart problem, then these tests are suggested by the doctor for further evaluation that includes:
Electrocardiogram (ECG): ECG helps the doctor identify any problems in the heartbeat and heart structure that can cause palpitation. This procedure is done while a person is at rest or during exercise.
Holter Monitoring: It is a portable device that helps to record a continuous ECG, usually for 24- 72 hours, while the person has to note down in a diary the time when they feel palpitations.
Event Recording: This is a portable ECG device, which is proposed to monitor heart activity over a week to a few months’ duration. The person has to wear it all day, however, the device records it only at certain times for a few minutes at a time. You must activate the device by pushing a button when you feel symptoms of a fast heart rate.
Echocardiogram: This is a non-invasive exam procedure that produces a moving image of the heart using sound waves and it shows how blood flow and any problems with heart structure.
If your healthcare provider finds out that you have a heart problem, heart palpitations seldom need treatment. However, the doctor may suggest simple ways to avoid the triggers that cause palpitations. If palpitations are caused by a disorder like an arrhythmia, then treatment will focus on correcting the underlying condition.
Some of the possible ways to manage and treat palpitations at home are to refrain from the triggers that causes symptoms, which includes:
Lower Stress: Combat stress by engaging in relaxation techniques like meditations, yoga or deep breathing.
Avoid Stimulants: Caffeine, nicotine, certain medicines, and energy drinks can make the heartbeat rapidly or irregularly.
Refrain Using Illegal Drugs: Certain drugs like cocaine and amphetamines may cause the heart to palpitate rapidly.