Heart & Stroke Conditions Explained

Definition

Palpitations

The normal heartbeat has a steady regular rhythm.

It varies from person to person. When we are at rest it beats at a rate of 60 to 100 beats a minute. It can speed up and slow down depending on our activity levels, yet most of the time we are completely unaware of our heart beating. For more see How Your Heart Works.

Palpitations are very common and most people can experience them from time to time during their lifetime. In most cases they are harmless and not a sign of heart problems.

Symptoms

Palpitations

Palpitation is a term used to describe the sensation of feeling your own heart beat or an awareness of a change in the heart rhythm.

You may feel these sensations in your throat or neck, as well as in your chest and they can occur at any time but are often most noticeable when you are resting.

They can be alarming, a nuisance and at times can feel very unpleasant. Palpitations are often described as a fluttering feeling in the chest or a sensation of the heart racing or pounding.

Sometimes you may feel skips and jumps, like missed or extra beats. This can last for anything from seconds to hours or even days.

Palpitations accompanied by other symptoms, such as dizziness, fainting or tightness in your chest, can sometimes be a sign of a heart problem and may need further investigation.

Causes

Palpitations

Palpitations are a common occurrence and usually nothing to worry about, yet their cause is often unknown.

Certain situations and lifestyle factors can trigger palpitations and cause them to occur more frequently.

 

Common triggers include:

  • Strenuous exercise
  • Surges of adrenalin, a hormone released in response to strong emotions like anxiety, excitement and stress
  • Cigarette smoking due to the stimulating effect of nicotine
  • Excessive consumption of tea or coffee due to the stimulating effect of caffeine
  • Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol or eating rich, spicy foods
  • Using recreational drugs
  • Illness such as colds or flu and fever
  • Hormone changes associated with menstruation, pregnancy or menopause
    Side effects from some types of medication e.g. some asthma inhaler medications that contain stimulants; some cold and cough remedies

 

Less common triggers:

  • Hormone changes associated with menstruation, pregnancy or menopause
  • Side effects from some types of medication e.g. some asthma inhaler medications that contain stimulants; some cold and cough remedies.

 

Palpitations can sometimes be associated with some medical conditions which can make the heart beat faster, stronger or irregularly. These include an overactive thyroid; a low blood sugar level; anaemia (a low blood count); an abnormal heart rhythm (arrhythmia).

Prevention

Palpitations

Avoiding activities or stresses that may cause palpitations may improve your symptoms.

  • Stay well hydrated when exercising
  • Reduce stress and anxiety. Try relaxation techniques such as meditation, yoga, mindfulness
  • Avoid stimulants like excess alcohol, nicotine and some cold and flu remedies
  • Reduce caffeine drinks like tea, coffee and energy drinks
  • Avoid recreational drugs

Diagnosis

Palpitations

Palpitations are very common and most people can experience them from time to time during their lifetime.

If you have a history of heart disease or your palpitations become more frequent, or if they worsen and are accompanied by other symptoms you may have a heart rhythm problem (arrhythmia), such as atrial fibrillation (A Fib) or supraventricular tachycardia (SVT).

Further tests may be needed to assess your heart rate and rhythm such as Holter monitor or echocardiogram.

Treatment

Palpitations

Palpitations that occur just occasionally and last a few seconds usually don't need any investigation or treatment.

If your palpitations are caused by an arrhythmia, your treatment will focus on correcting the underlying condition.

Resources

Palpitations

Read our resources for further information:

See our video demonstration on How to Check Your Pulse to see if it’s regular, and what to do if it is irregular.

Symptoms