Health Checkup: Heart Palpitations

Printer-friendly version Printer-friendly version

Heart palpitations happen when you can feel your heart flutter or beat rapidly. They can occur both when you are active and resting. Heart palpitations are not usually serious, but can be a sign of an underlying heart condition.

Certain individuals are more at risk for palpitations. They include those who are under stress or feel a high amount of anxiety. In other cases, things like nicotine, caffeine or certain medications that contain stimulants, such as some asthma inhalers, may cause heart palpitations.

More serious causes of heart palpitations involve individuals with a known heart condition and those with an overactive thyroid gland. Individuals with these medical conditions should see their doctor immediately. You should also consult a physician if you are concerned about the duration and frequency of your heart palpitations, or if you become lightheaded, develop shortness of breath or experience chest pain.

Your doctor can run tests that will help determine the cause of your heart palpitations. The most common test is the electrocardiogram (ECG), in which probes are attached to your arms and chest so that the electrical activity that helps your heart beat is monitored. You may also need a Holter monitor, a portable ECG that is worn for 24 to 72 hours and gives a more in-depth reading. A chest X-ray can show if your heart is enlarged, and blood studies can confirm the existence of an overactive thyroid.

Palpitations due to a serious medical condition may require medication or surgery. However, most heart palpitations do not require either treatment. To reduce your susceptibility to heart palpitations, you can reduce your caffeine or nicotine intake, or if you exercise, make sure to include warm-up and cool-down activities to give your heart a gradual chance to change pace. Finally, if your doctor has ruled out serious causes, you can try home remedies such as magnesium supplements, foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, or grape juice, since some people find these helpful in reducing palpitations.