Synonyms: Irregular heartbeat, Heart pounding, Heart racing

Medical Specialties: Cardiology, Family practice, Internal medicine

Clinical Definition

Heart palpitations are a perceived abnormality of heartbeat, including tachycardia or extrasystole. Palpitations can occur at any time, including during performance of daily activities.


The etiology is diverse, ranging from stress, anxiety and other emotions to pregnancy, caffeine ingestion and certain medical conditions. Palpitations may or may not be linked to a serious medical condition. Type of treatment is based on etiology.

In Our Own Words

Heart palpitations describe the sensation of the heart suddenly ''pounding" or ''racing," with a feeling that it is skipping a beat; has extra beats (i.e., extrasystole); has a very fast beat (i.e., tachycardia); flutters; or simply does not feel typical in some other way.


Palpitations may be felt in the chest, in addition to the throat or neck. The possible causes are many and not always serious, from medical conditions —  such as an overactive thyroid or low blood sugar — to being pregnant; exercising; drinking caffeine; or taking certain medications or illicit drugs such as cocaine or speed.


To determine the cause, your doctor will take a careful history, do a physical exam and may order a variety of other tests. Treatment depends on what cause is found. If you are otherwise healthy, no treatment may be needed.  Decreasing your stress level, limiting intake of caffeine-containing beverages and foods and not smoking are all factors in lowering the risk of palpitations.

Relevant Conditions
Side Effects
  • Feeling of pounding, racing of fluttering
  • Dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Light-headedness
Share this article
  • Harvard Health Publications. "Medical Dictionary of Health Terms." Accessed September 2013.
  • Cleveland Clinic. "Heart Palpitations.” Accessed September 2013.
  • University of Maryland Medical Center. "Heart palpitations." Updated May 2013. Accessed September 2013.
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