Heart palpitations explained

A heart palpitation is the feeling of being aware of your heart beating. If the feeling of your heart racing, pounding, skipping or adding beats suddenly catches you by surprise, you are experiencing heart palpitations. You may also be aware of this sensation in your chest, throat or neck.

A heart rhythm problem, known as an arrythmia, may be caused by heart conditions that require medical attention.

Ventricular tachycardia occurs when faulty signals in the ventricles, the heart’s lower chambers, cause an abnormally fast heart rate.

Atrial fibrillation, nicknamed AFib, occurs when the atria, the upper chambers in your heart, flutter rather than beat in rhythm.

Supraventricular tachycardia is a problem stemming from the atria that causes the heart to beat abnormally fast.

Premature ventricular contractions, or PVCs, occur when the heart’s ventricles squeeze early, causing an extra heartbeat. This throws off the normal heart rhythm, causing it to pound or flutter. If you have heart disease, or your heart is not in good health, PVCs may require medical treatment.

There are a number of other causes for heart palpitations.

  • stress, anxiety and panic attacks
  • exercise
  • low blood sugar
  • alcohol
  • anaemia
  • caffeine 
  • nicotine or nicotine withdrawal
  • overactive thyroid gland
  • menopausal or pregnancy related hormonal changes
  • recreational drugs
  • dehydration
  • fever
  • heart conditions.

Heart palpitations can also be the side effect of a number of common medicines, including:

  • antibiotics
  • cough and cold medicines
  • antipsychotic drugs
  • high blood pressure medicines
  • asthma inhalers
  • thyroid pills
  • antifungal drugs
  • diet pills.

If you are experiencing heart palpitations it’s important to sit down in a comfortable position, remain calm and avoid stimulation. If you experience them alongside chest pain, pressure, dizziness, fainting or shortness of breath you should seek medical advice.

If your doctor wishes to find out more about your heart rhythm, they may assess it using an ECG (electrocardiogram), echocardiogram or monitor it using a wearable, portable machine such as Holter monitors or an event monitor. In serious cases, heart palpitations may be treatable with prescribed medicines, surgery or implantable devices.

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Disclaimer: This article contains general information about health issues and is not advice. For health advice, consult your medical practitioner.

Written by Liv Gardiner

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