What are Heart Palpitations

If you’ve felt your heart pound, skip a beat or race in your chest, chances are you experienced a heart palpitation.

But what are heart palpitations?

what are heart palpitations

Heart palpitations may make you feel like your heart is fluttering, murmuring, flip-flopping or racing. It’s a change in the regular heartbeat your heart produces.

To many, this can be worrisome at first.

If you’ve experienced a heart palpitation, you probably became immediately aware of your heartbeat. The sensation derived from heart palpitations can be felt in the chest, throat, or neck.

Sometimes, during the event of heart palpitations, your natural heart rhythm may change as well.

While most heart palpitations resolve themselves without treatment and shouldn’t cause worry, there are some rare occasions where heart palpitations can point towards a more serious medical issue.

However, there’s no use in getting caught up with stress over the occasion.

The trick is knowing your body and what to look out for. Most people only experience heart palpitations once in a blue moon, while others experience them regularly and with intensity.

In this article, we’ll outline everything you need to know to answer the common question, “what are heart palpitations?”

We’ll review all the information you’ll want to know: from its causes to treatments so you can skip throughout your day, allowing your heart to skip a beat, worry-free.

Causes of Heart Palpitations

Usually, causes for heart palpitations are unknown. This is largely due to the fact that they’re harmless heart hiccups, and almost immediately disappear after their occurrence. 

what are heart palpitations

However, there are some known causes of heart palpitations. These include:

  • Depression
  • Emotional situations that create anxiety, stress, shock or panic attacks.
  • Intense workouts
  • Fevers
  • Any sort of stimulants such as cocaine, caffeine, nicotine, medications with pseudoephedrine or amphetamines
  • Hormonal shifts which usually go along with pregnancy, menstruation or menopause
  • Increased or lack of thyroid hormone
  • Blood loss

As we mentioned earlier, the majority of heart palpitations are completely harmless.

While the list above are common causes of heart palpitations, the repercussion usually only lasts a couple seconds before our bodies correct it naturally.

However, sometimes, these palpitations can indicate a more serious illness is at hand. These illnesses may include:

  • A heart disease
  • Arrhythmia
  • A defective heart valve
  • Overactive thyroid gland

Abnormal heart rhythm, otherwise known as arrhythmia as seen above, may cause a fast heart rate, irregular heart rhythms or a unusually slow heart rate.

People who experience occasional heart palpitations may experience this issue. So, if you begin noticing an increase in the amount of heart palpitations you’ve experiencing, make an appointment with your doctor in order to eliminate all possibilities.

Risk Factors Associated with Heart Palpitations

Risk factors for heart palpitations can be understood just by looking at the causes.

man having a headache

For instance, if you’re highly stressed, or suffer from an anxiety disorder, the emotional responses may trigger a heart palpitation.

If you’ve been prescribed with certain medications that include stimulants or if you take drugs, the increase in stimulants running through your system may also cause this heart event.

Also, if you know you have an overactive thyroid gland, or if you experience any other symptoms associated with a hyperthyroidism, this may be linked to your heart palpitations.

Lastly, if you’ve experienced any other heart issues such as a heart defect, arrhythmia, or if you experienced a heart attack or heart surgery in the past, these may lead to heart palpitations as well.

Complications with Heart Palpitations

Unless you’ve experienced a heart condition in the past that is the cause of the heart palpitations, there’s hardly any risk of complications.

However, if you have experienced one of the heart conditions mentioned above, possible complications may include the following:

father and son sitting
  • Cardiac arrest: Although this is extremely rare, palpitations may be caused by arrhythmias, which causes your heart to stop beating properly.
  • Fainting: If your heart palpitations are quickly-paced, your blood pressure may drop, resulting in a fainting incident. This is more likely to happen if you’re already experiencing a heart issue such as valve diseases or congenital heart disease.
  • Stroke: If your palpitations are created from quivering upper heart chambers (atrial fibrillation), blood may pool and begin clotting. If a clot comes loose, it could possible block an artery leading to your brain, resulting in a stroke.
  • Heart Failure: This may happen if you have an arrhythmia for an elongated period of time. By controlling the rate of your arrhythmia, you’ll be able to improve the overall function of your heart and reverse the effects of heart failure.

Signs you Require Immediate Medical Attention

man collapse

If you are experiencing heart palpitations due to a diagnosed heart issue, you’ll need to seek medical attention immediately.

If you haven’t been diagnosed with a heart problem but you begin noticing other symptoms aside form your heart palpitations, you should seek out medical attention as well. These symptoms include:

  • Weakness
  • Dizziness
  • Fainting
  • Lightheadedness
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Issues breathing
  • Confusion
  • Profuse sweating
  • Upper back, chest, jaw, neck or arm pain
  • Pulse rate of 100 beats/minute while resting

If you begin experiencing any of these symptoms, it could be an indication of a more severe condition. However, sometimes, it may be a separate issue from the heart palpitations.

The only way to find out is to chat with your doctor or a professional about possible physical exams, which leads us to how to diagnose your heart palpitation.

Diagnosing Heart Palpitation Causes

Since the causes of heart palpitations vary greatly, they can be difficult to diagnose. This is especially so if they don’t arise while you’re with your doctor, which, chances are they won’t.

doctor checking urine result

First, your doctor will likely conduct a physical exam to pinpoint a potential cause. During this exam, your doctor will also ask you a series of questions to gain a better understanding of your specific heart palpitations.

Therefore, arrive at your doctor’s prepared to answer the following questions:

  • Describe your stress levels
  • What sort of physical activities do you participate in?
  • What medications do you use?
  • What other health conditions do you suffer from?
  • Do you use OTC medication or supplements?

Depending on the results of the exam, your doctor may refer you to a cardiologist, or heart specialist. Here, they may conduct a few tests to help eliminate the possibility of heart issues or specific diseases.

These tests may include:

  • Urine tests
  • A stress test
  • Blood test
  • An electrocardiogram
  • A recording of your heart’s rhythms over the span of 24 hours with a Holter monitor
  • A chest X-Ray
  • Heart ultrasound, or an echocardiogram
  • A coronary angiography to observe how your blood flows through your heart

Treatment for Heart Palpitations


Depending on the cause of your specific palpitations, treatment may vary. Before treatment begins, your doctor will need to address any potential or alternative medical conditions that may be affecting your “heart hiccups.”

More often than not, the cause of these palpitations are unknown, and therefore treatment is as well.

However, there are a few self-help treatments based on common sense that you can practice.

For instance, if you or your doctor believe that your heart palpitations are a result from your lifestyle, you can cut down or eliminate certain choices such as caffeine or smoking.

Sometimes, a healthy lifestyle change is all you need to do to treat your heart palpitations.

If your doctor believes your condition is a symptom of medication you’ve been taking, ask your doctor for alternative treatment recommendations.

Preventing Future Heart Palpitations

young girl chest hurts

If your doctor has told you that you don’t need any treatment, but you’re still looking for something to help decrease the amount of heart palpitations you experience, you could try the following steps:

  • Identify any triggers so you can eliminate them from your daily routine. Starting a daily journal can help with this.
  • If you believe your heart palpitations are from anxiety or stress, try taking up yoga, tai chi or deep breathing exercises.
  • Stop using tobacco products or quit smoking.
  • Limit your daily caffeine intake.
  • Exercise more often.
  • Control your cholesterol and blood pressure levels.

What Are Heart Palpitations: Final Points

If you’ve experienced heart palpitations, the first thing to remember is don’t stress.

People experience these heart hiccups every day and the majority of voiced concerns lead to unknown causes and therefore, no need for treatment.

However, to avoid any unpleasant causes of heart palpitations, try to get to know your body and remember to be good to it.

Usually, the reason for your body acting up is because it’s trying to tell you something. Be curious about what your body is saying, and follow up that curiosity with the support it deserves.

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