A palpitation is an unpleasant sensation of irregular, forceful, quickened or slow heart beats.
But heart palpitations can also result from serious underlying problems and disordered heart rhythms called arrhythmias, some of which are life threatening. It is important to know more about this condition so that you can talk about your symptoms effectively with your doctor.
Palpitations are unexpected sensations often described as “the feeling of your heart thumping in your chest.” The sensation can be fast, slow, regular or irregular. There is often an awareness of the heart, pounding, skipping, racing, fluttering, or doing a “flip-flop.” Some people feel palpitations in their throat or neck, and a few feel just a general sense that something is wrong.
The list of things that can cause palpitations is long, and in as many as 16 percent of patients, no cause can be found. Of the causes that are noncardiac, anxiety may be the most common. Anxiety and heart disease are both very common conditions that can happen together, so authorities caution against being too quick to dismiss palpitations as anxiety.
If your palpitations are accompanied by severe shortness of breath, chest pain, fainting or loss of consciousness, you should get medical attention immediately. Do not wait to call 911, since there are some serious potential complications in these instances, including injury from fainting, stroke, cardiac arrest or heart failure.
If you know that your heart palpitations are caused by a serious underlying condition but you aren’t experiencing chest pain, fainting, severe dizziness or severe shortness of breath, you may still want to seek immediate medical attention.
It helps if you can be very descriptive about your symptoms, and awareness of your heart rate (beats per minute) while having symptoms may also be helpful.
If you are generally healthy, your palpitations were brief, and most importantly, there were not any other concerning signs or symptoms, you can make an appointment. Your doctor can help you find out if your palpitations are harmless or a symptom of a more serious condition.
Sometimes a cause cannot be pinpointed, and some experts recommend avoiding caffeine and alcohol as a first step, in concert with seeking medical advice. Avoiding too much caffeine and alcohol is always a good idea, and stress management and healthy living can have benefits far beyond any positive impact on heart palpitations.