Every now and then I’ll have a patient tell me that they occasionally experience a fluttering, or faster than usual, heart beat and want to know what’s causing it and what they can do about it. As I explain to my patients, those flip flops they feel in their chest are most always nothing to worry about and can be caused by certain ‘triggers’ that I’d like to share with you.
Common Causes of Heart Palpitations
Almost everyone gets palpitations at one time or another as they can be brought on by a number of common things that aggravate adrenaline surges in your body including:
- Stress/Strong Emotions – “fight or flight” syndrome can cause a fast heartbeat.
- Too much alcohol – can drop your blood sugar and cause adrenaline rushes.
- Medications – some contain stimulants that can bring on palpitations.
- Low blood sugar – going without eating for several hours can cause adrenaline rushes.
- Pregnancy/Menstruation – increased hormone fluctuation trigger adrenaline surges.
- Menopause/Andropause – decreased hormone fluctuations trigger adrenaline surges.
- Nicotine – stimulants, chemicals and toxins in tobacco can cause rapid heartbeat.
- Caffeine – can over-stimulate your metabolism and make your heart beat faster.
- Fever – elevated body temperature can cause faster than usual heartbeat.
Possible Physical Causes of Palpitations
In order to know how to control/prevent palpitations, it is first important to get checked by your doctor to rule out any important underlying medical conditions such as:
- Overactive thyroid gland (hyperthyroidism) – this requires treatment by either prescription or surgery.
- Cardiac arrhythmia – this is an increase or decrease in the normal rhythm, beat, of the heart that can be either too fast, tachycardia, or too slow, bradycardia, and can create palpitations. It can also be an irregular rhythm such as occurs in atrial fibrillation. These conditions, however, are easily treated with medications and sometimes a procedure called ablation to restore the heart to a normal rhythm.
- Adrenal gland problem – sometimes a tumor of the adrenal gland develops and causes a condition called pheochromocytoma which can result in palpitations from the over-secretion of adrenaline. This condition is usually addressed by surgical removal of the tumor and/or followup medication.
- Heart defects – such as mitral valve prolapse, or other valvular conditions, can often cause chronic palpitations.
- Panic/Anxiety attack – these cause an adrenaline rush and resulting palpitations.
Things To Watch For
As I mentioned, most often palpitations are harmless and stop when you make some diet or lifestyle changes. However, here are some warning signs you should watch for in association with palpitations that could alert you to a possible impending heart attack or dangerous arrhythmia, or another underlying physical condition such as those mentioned above:
- Lightheaded/Feeling Faint
- Rapid, strong palpitations
- Chest pain
- Sweating, clamminess
- Shortness of breath
How Can You Prevent Palpitations?
Once you’ve ruled out physical causes for palpitations, like those noted above, you can then start to modify lifestyle, diet and stressors to help prevent and/or minimize getting palpitations. Here’s how:
- Decompress. Find a remedy for whatever is stressing you out and causing you so much anxiety that you are experiencing a “nervous heart”.
- Smoking/alcohol: Limit alcohol to no more than 1-2 drinks a day. If you smoke, get help quitting.
- Blood sugar: Make sure you eat regular meals throughout the day to prevent low blood sugar attacks.
- Hormone changes: If hormone fluctuations are so great that they are causing chronic palpitations, perhaps you need bioidentical hormone replacement. If you are pregnant, discuss your symptoms with your doctor. Often times, the weight of the baby pressing up on the diaphragm can cause palpitations. Shifting positions and taking deep, slow breaths of fresh air should help.
- Medications: If you get palpitations whenever you take certain medications, discuss this with your doctor. There may be another medication available that doesn’t have the stimulation as a side effect.
As I tell my patients, everyone gets palpitations from time to time and they are absolutely harmless as your heart is still working normally. Think of palpitations as your heart reminding you not to drink so much, not to smoke, eat more regular meals, get your medications checked, sleep more, or have your hormones balanced. If you try some of the same suggestions listed here that I give my patients, I think you will find yourself with fewer palpitations and spend less time worrying about them!
Heart Palpitations, http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/heart-palpitations/DS01139/DSECTION=symptoms
Atrial Fibrillation, http://www.multaq.com/Consumer/about-afib/atrial-fibrillation-symptoms.aspx?