Heart palpitations: A cause for concern?

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Heart palpitations: A cause for concern?

Question

Can heart palpitations be a sign of a serious, underlying heart condition? I sometimes experience heart palpitations at night that keep me awake for hours.

Brenda
Minnesota

Answer

Heart palpitations cause the sensation of rapid, fluttering or pounding heartbeats. Although heart palpitations can be worrisome, they're often harmless. Common causes of heart palpitations include:

  • Anxiety
  • Stress
  • Exercise
  • Caffeine
  • Nicotine
  • Fever
  • Hormone changes associated with menstruation, pregnancy or menopause
  • Certain medications, such as pseudoephedrine, an ingredient in some cold and allergy medicines

Often the cause of heart palpitations can't be determined. However, occasionally, heart palpitations can be a sign of a serious, underlying problem such as 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).

If you're concerned about heart palpitations, consult your doctor. He or she may recommend further evaluation such as heart monitoring tests. Seek prompt medical attention if heart palpitations are accompanied by:

  • Dizziness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest discomfort or pain
  • Fainting

Last Updated: 04/27/2007
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