Forgetting about your heart is easy. As hard as it works, for the most part we don’t even notice it. Your heart beats and beats but only rarely do we even feel the constant movement in our chest.

In this age of information, we spend a lot of time thinking about nutrition. We also like the idea of exercise and weight loss.  But because our heart generally pumps in silence, how much time do we actually spend thinking about it?

It is easy to be lulled into a false sense of security. Your mind can dismiss the odd pain or strain as it tells you that heart conditions are reserved for the elderly.

Surprisingly, heart palpitations are a fairly common symptom that disturbs the tranquility in our chest that we have come to know as normal. This can be a good and a bad thing. While a lot of the time heart palpitations are no cause for concern, occasionally it is a symptom of something more serious.

Let’s take a look at how to recognize heart palpitations and what causes them.

What Causes Heart Palpitations

What do we mean by the term “palpitations”?  Many people are confused about that word. Most of the time, our heart beats without any of us feeling it. If we felt our heart beating all day and night, it would drive us crazy.  On rare occasions, perhaps if you are lying down in a certain position, you might notice the vague sensation of your heart beating. Sometimes you might hear pulsations in your ear. You might even feel the blood pulsing through a part of your body. Those feelings are normal. However, “palpitations” refers to the feeling that your heart is beating abnormally. It may be fleeting, like feeling a “thump” from a premature beat. It may be rapid, when someone feels as if their heart is racing a million miles an hour. It could be constant and irregular beating or fluttering. On the other hand, it could be a pounding feeling like you get when you see red flashing lights in your rear-view mirror.  Any time you notice that your heart feels like it’s not beating right, it’s referred to as having palpitations. So, there are many different kinds of palpitations – some may be due to abnormalities in the heart rhythm and some may not.

The pounding palpitations that may be a little faster than normal are often a sign of stress, which causes the release of adrenaline, a natural hormone that increases the heart rate and the strength of the heart’s contractions. Many things can cause those kinds of palpitations. Some common causes include stress, anxiety, strenuous exercise, or too much caffeine or nicotine.  If you are sick with a fever, you may have palpitations from the illness, but it is also worth remembering that heart palpitations can be a common side effect of certain cold medications.  Anemia and low blood sugar can also cause palpitations. In general, the rhythm during these pounding palpitation symptoms is normal or sometimes a little faster than normal. Normal rhythms above 100 beats per minute are referred to as “sinus tachycardia.”

Sometimes palpitations of the heart are indicative of something more serious, like problems with your thyroid gland or an abnormal heart rhythm (arrhythmia).  If you’re experiencing very rapid palpitations, dizziness, shortness of breath or chest pain, you need to contact your doctor immediately. Your doctor will most likely recommend that you take tests that can help determine the underlying cause.

What Happens When Your Heart Skips a Beat

Let’s take a look at the science behind these heart flutters. The more you know about your heart and what happens when you experience common symptoms like heart palpitations, the better chance you have of treating it correctly.

  • Premature Contractions: some heart palpitations are the result of premature contractions.  A premature beat can arise from either the top chamber (premature atrial contraction) or the bottom chambers (premature ventricular contraction). This throws the regular rhythm off for one or two beats. Many people don’t notice premature beats unless they are lying quietly and there are no distractions, but some people feel them as a “skipped” beat or thump in the chest, often followed by a pause (until the heart catches up with the normal timing).
  • Atrial Fibrillation: Another common cause of palpitations is atrial fibrillation. This usually causes continuous irregular beating. This can be irregular and rapid (“atrial fibrillation with a rapid ventricular response”) or it may be irregular but slower, perhaps only a little faster than the normal heart rate. Atrial fibrillation occurs when the electrical activity of the upper chambers is rapid and chaotic.
  • Tachycardia: There are many different electrical disturbances that can cause a rapid, regular “racing” of the heart (tachycardia). Many of those are due to a “short circuit” in the electrical circuits of the heart. The way to diagnose these is to perform an electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG) during the symptoms to examine the electrical activity of the heart and determine the nature of the rhythm disturbance.

Treatment of heart palpitations depends on what is causing the symptom and whether the rhythm is normal or not. Some palpitations can be treated with a change in your lifestyle. Reducing the amount of coffee or alcohol you drink and increasing your level of exercise and water intake can reduce some of the simple palpitations that are not due to arrhythmia, often within a matter of days or weeks.

It is always worth seeking advice from your physician. Sometimes another opinion from a cardiologist or perhaps a heart rhythm specialist (cardiac electrophysiologist) is the most effective way to make the proper diagnosis and obtain the best advise about whether you palpitations require any treatment. The body is capable of doing strange things, and while some symptoms are not serious, it is better to be safe than sorry.

What are Common Treatments for Heart Palpitations

While it is always recommended to consult your doctor if worried or in doubt about any cardiac symptoms you might be having, it is also helpful to know a few simple solutions to a common problem.

If your heart palpitations are the result of poor lifestyle habits, a commitment to healthy living could be sufficient. For example, drinking more water, avoiding stress, and reducing your intake of stimulants can help keep proper balance in your life. Vices like caffeine and nicotine can often be the cause. If these are cut or reduced, you might be able to solve the problem.

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