Heart Palpitations - Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, Prevention

Managing Heart Palpitations

Dr.Debabrata  Dash profile Authored by Dr.Debabrata Dash on 13 Oct 2014 - 10:48.

The palpitations of the heart refers to the feeling that your heart is beating or fluttering so fast that you can significantly feel that in your chest, neck or throat. Although one may get worried once it’s started, the palpitations are often harmless and do not cause any serious condition. However, in a few cases it can be a warning sign of arrhythmia, or overactive thyroid gland which needs immediate medical attention. Harmless palpitations are often associated with excessive emotional stress, workload, excess intake of alcohol, caffeine or nicotine and pregnancy. It is not associated with the posture of your body like sitting, standing or sleeping, neither it is linked to your activity level (whether you are performing any activity or resting).

In most of the cases, the exact cause of palpitation remains unidentified. However, there are some known causes of heart palpitation, which may include:

  • Excessive stress
  • Fear
  • Anxiety
  • Vigorous exercises
  • Excessive consumption of stimulants such as nicotine or caffeine and illegal drugs like cocaine
  • Intake of alcohol
  • High body temperature (fever)
  • Hormone changes, especially in females during the pregnancy, menopause or during periods
  • Certain medications such as  pseudoephedrine and asthma inhaler and several diet pills
  • Several medical conditions such as declined blood pressure, dehydration, low blood sugar, and anemia.
  • Some herbal preparations or supplements
  • Sensitivity to certain foods. Example: Few people may have palpitations on eating foods rich in sugar, nitrates, sodium and carbohydrates.
  • Several heart diseases, including, valve problems, heart muscle disease, before heart attack, coronary artery disease etc.

The most common symptoms of heart palpitation may include the following:

  • Fluttering or unsteady heart
  • Skipping heart beats
  • Unusually fast heart beats, significant enough to be felt
  • Harder blood pumping as compared to normal heart
  • Restlessness

When to see a doctor?

Usually, heart palpitations persist for a while and go on their own. However, you must visit your doctor in following situations:

  • Frequent palpitations
  • History of any heart disease
  • Palpitations accompanied by the chest pain
  • Fainting or dizziness
  • Difficulty in breathing

Diagnosis of heart palpitation may involve physical examination, assessment of medical history and several tests and procedures.

Physical examination: This includes listening to your heart beats with the help of a stethoscope and questioning about other symptoms experienced.

Assessment of a medical history: Doctor may ask you about history of clinical conditions such as several heart diseases that may cause heart palpitation.

Electrocardiogram (ECG): It is performed to trace out the irregularities and abnormalities in the heart by recording the electrical impulses produced by the heart.

Holter monitoring:It is used to identify the palpitations that may go undiagnosed during normal ECG procedure. The Holter is a portable device that can continuously record the ECG for about 1 to 3 days.

Event recording: When Holter monitors fails to detect the palpitation,event recorder may be worn to record the palpitation during the onset of symptoms.

Echocardiogram: To see the detailed picture of your heart obtained with the help of ultrasound waves.

Certain factors may increase the risk of getting heart palpitations. These may include:

  • Being continuously under stressful conditions
  • Having any anxiety disorder
  • Being pregnant
  • Taking “high risk” medications (mentioned in causes)
  • Experiencing frequent panic attacks
  • Having hypothyroidism
  • Having any heart disease

Complications

Although most of palpitation cases do not lead to severe complications, but palpitations caused due to other underlying heart conditions may lead to complications, such as:

  • Sudden drop in blood pressure that may lead to fainting
  • Cardiac arrest (heart stops working suddenly)
  • Stroke
  • Disturbed heart pumping for prolonged period, causing heart failure

As it is already said, very few cases (when the cause is any health condition) require a medical approach to treat the disease. Usually, experts may advise you to avoid the triggering factors that might be responsible for the heart palpitation. On the other hand, if the palpitations are due to any underlying medical condition the treatment approaches will be aimed at treating the cause.

Lifestyle Modifications and home remedies:

  • Avoid stressful situations by performing relaxing activities like meditation, listening to music or different therapies.
  • Avoid the consumption of stimulants like caffeine, high risk medications, alcohol and cocaine.
  • Increase the consumption of water (as much as possible)
  • Several remedies can be done easily at home to cope up with the condition. Few are mentioned below:
  • Consume a glass of mixture at bedtime containing warm water (1 glass) added with lemon juice (half lemon) and 1 tsp honey
  • Consume mixture containing coriander powder, aniseed powder and honey (in 2:2:1 proportion)
  • Intake of guava early in the morning (on an empty stomach) can help to reduce the palpitations.

Diet, nutrition and supplements to support the condition:

  • Include fish oil in your diet as it has the ability to stabilize the heart cardiac cell membrane
  • Consume foods containing omega 3 fatty acids. Ex. Flax seed oil or seeds
  • Consume carnitine supplements (<100 mg/ day) and CoQ10 supplement (> 30 mg/day)
  • Mineral supplements containing magnesium can be helpful
  • Antioxidant supplements like Resveratrol, Berberine and berbamine

Acupressure for heart palpitations: According to experts, acupressure therapy on particular points, on the back (somewhere on the spinal cord just below the neck), leg (just above the ankle) hands (on the wrist and just above it) etc., can help to reduce palpitations.

The following approaches may be implemented to reduce the severity of the palpitations or to prevent them.

  • Avoid stress and be calm and relaxed
  • Limit or completely avoid alcohol
  • Limit coffee and other similar beverages
  • Quit smoking
  • Exercise daily (chose a right form of exercise by consulting your doctor or fitness trainer)
  • Avoid activities that may lead to palpitations
  • Avoid triggering medications and ask for their replacement
  • Avoid worrying about your palpitations till the cause is identified
  • If you are experiencing frequent palpitations, keep the appointments scheduled in advance to monitor your heart.
*Disclaimer This is not medical advice. The content is for educational purposes only. Please contact your doctor for any health care issues.