Heart palpitations (pal-pih-TA-shuns) are the feelings of having rapid, fluttering or pounding heartbeats. Heart palpitations can be triggered by stress, exercise, medication or, rarely, an underlying medical condition.
Although heart palpitations can be worrisome, they're usually harmless, since your heart is usually still pumping effectively. In rare cases, heart palpitations may be a symptom of a more serious heart condition, such as an irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia), that may require treatment.
Heart palpitation symptoms can feel like:
You may feel heart palpitations in your throat or neck, as well as your chest. Heart palpitations can occur whether you're active or at rest, and whether you're standing, seated or lying down.
When to see a doctor
Often the cause of your heart palpitations can't be found. Common causes of heart palpitations include:
However, occasionally heart palpitations can be a sign of a serious, underlying problem, such as an overactive thyroid gland (hyperthyroidism) or an abnormal heart rhythm (arrhythmia). Arrhythmias may include very fast heart rates (tachycardia), unusually slow heart rates (bradycardia) or an irregular heart rhythm (atrial fibrillation).
You may be at risk of developing palpitations if you:
Unless your heart palpitations are a sign of an underlying heart condition, there's little risk of complications.
If your palpitations are a sign of an underlying heart condition, possible complications include:
Preparing for your appointment
If you have heart palpitations with severe shortness of breath, chest pain or fainting, you should seek emergency medical attention immediately. If your palpitations are brief and there are no other worrisome signs or symptoms, make an appointment to see your doctor. Your doctor can help you find out if your palpitations are harmless or a symptom of a more serious heart condition.
Because appointments can be brief, and because there's often a lot of ground to cover, it's a good idea to be prepared for your appointment. Here's some information to help you get ready for your appointment, and what to expect from your doctor.
What you can do
Your time with your doctor is limited, so preparing a list of questions will help you make the most of your time together. List your questions from most important to least important, in case time runs out. For heart palpitations, some basic questions to ask your doctor include:
What to expect from your doctor
What you can do in the meantime
Tests and diagnosis
If your doctor thinks you have heart palpitations, he or she will first listen to your heart using a stethoscope to see if your heart's beating irregularly or too quickly. Your doctor may also look for signs of medical conditions that can cause heart palpitations, such as a swollen thyroid gland.
Other tests your doctor may perform include:
Treatments and drugs
Unless your doctor finds that you have an underlying heart condition, heart palpitations seldom require medications or surgery as treatment. Instead, your doctor may recommend ways for you to avoid the triggers that cause your palpitations.
If your palpitations are caused by an underlying condition, such as an arrhythmia, your treatment will focus on correcting the underlying condition.
Lifestyle and home remedies
The best way to treat palpitations at home is to avoid the triggers that may cause your symptoms. Some ways to avoid triggers include:
Last Updated: 2011-04-21
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