What Are Heart Palpitations and What Causes Them?

What Are They and What Are the Causes?

It is hard to answer the question, what are heart palpitations, without also discussing what causes them. Let us first discuss what they are.

Palpitations have been described as a flutter of the heart that feels like the heart is speeding up, or feels like it is racing. At times, it has been described as the heart feels like it is skipping a beat or that it has stopped or paused before it takes the next beat.

The flutter feeling can happen at any time. Some people experience the racing feeling of the heart while they are sitting down without exerting themselves in any active activities that would normally speed up the heart. The palpitations are often felt in the neck, throat and chest.

It is normal for a heart to beat 60 – 100 times a minute. When people exercise on a routine basis or take certain medications it is normal for the heartbeat to beat 55 beats a minute.

When a heart beat is slower than normal it is known as bradycardia. When a heartbeat is over 100 beats a minute it is known as tachycardia. When the heartbeat beats an extra beat, it is called extrasystole.

Although palpitations of the heart can be frightening to people that experience them, they are usually not serious. It is more rare than not that a serious medical condition causes them.

Some of the causes for the heart palpitations can be caused by stress, anxiety, anemia, caffeine, decreased oxygen, fear, hyperventilation, exercise, nicotine, fever, diet pills, cocaine use or in some cases can be caused by certain types of medications such as those used to treat asthma, thyroid conditions, heart problems or high blood pressure.

Are There Any Medical Conditions That Cause the Palpitations?

Yes, there are medical conditions that can be the cause of heart palpitations. If they happen on a regular basis, it could be signs of an abnormal heart rhythm, also known as arrhythmia, an abnormal heart valve, an overactive thyroid, or an imbalance in electrolyte levels like potassium.

When to See a Doctor

A person who has experienced palpitations may ask, what are heart palpitations that may be a cause for concern? The answer to that would be, if a person experiences shortness of breath, chest pain, lightheadedness, dizziness, unusual sweating or unconsciousness then they need to be seen by a physician right away.

The doctor would examine the person to rule out if they are experiencing a heart attack or other condition. He may ask for medical test such as an electrocardiogram, electrophysiology study, coronary angiography, or may ask the person to wear a holter monitor for 24 hours or up to two weeks to monitor the heartbeat. The purpose in this would be to rule out or diagnose a medical problem that could cause the palpitations.

On A Special Note

It is always a good idea to play it on the safe side and schedule an appointment with a doctor. Only a doctor can tell a person if the heart palpitations are caused by a medical condition or not. It is dangerous to ignore symptoms such as heart palpitations, regardless of how rare the chances are that they are serious.



U.S. National Library of Medicine

Cleveland Clinic