Does your heart skip a beat or start pounding and racing every once in a while? Palpitations are quite common and can be related to your emotional state. Palpitations can be concerning, especially if you are in the middle of your Valentine’s date. But what if you experience them all year long? On Valentine’s Day, our Consultant Cardiologist Dr Roy Jogiya tells us why palpitations might happen, how to control them and when it is advisable to see a specialist.
Why does your heart skip a beat
The term “palpitations” refers to the awareness of an unpleasant beating of the heart usually with an increase in frequency or force and/or irregularity of rhythm. You might feel that your heart is fluttering, racing, pounding or skipping a beat. And you can feel your pulse in your chest, throat and ears.
In most cases, palpitations are harmless, and they can last from a few seconds to a few minutes, or even longer in some cases. However, if symptoms are persistent or concerning, then it may be advisable to see a specialist.
Stress and intense exercise are frequent causes of palpitations
Stress and intense physical activity can be common causes for palpitations, but hormonal changes in your body, certain medications or conditions can also trigger them.
Stress is a risk factor for many cardiovascular diseases. A recent study shows that employees with demanding and stressful jobs have a 50% increased risk of developing Atrial Fibrillation, which is a form of arrhythmia. Over 1.000.000 people are thought to have Atrial Fibrillation in the UK, another 250.000 people are estimated to have the condition undiagnosed.
Prolonged exercise in the heat or strenuous cardio circuits can be reasons why you may experience palpitations every so often. Palpitations might be exacerbated with dehydration, low sugar and potassium levels. Therefore it is important to stay hydrated.
Certain diseases can trigger heart palpitations:
- Conditions of the heart muscle such as arrhythmias, heart attacks, valve problems, pacemakers and cardiomyopathy.
Identifying these conditions as the cause is important as early detection and management can help lower the associated risks.
- Anxiety, depression, panic attacks
- Hyperthyroidism, when your thyroid gland is overactive
- Anaemia, when the level of your red blood cells is too low
- Hypoglycaemia, when the level of sugar in your blood is too low
Hormones play a significant role in all organs’ functions. Women are more at risk of experiencing palpitations, due to hormone changes not only each month, but during their lives:
Pregnancy can provoke palpitations because the increased demand on the heart due to a larger circulating volume. The heart’s greater effort may result in an increased heart rate or skipped heartbeats.
During menopause, the changes in oestrogen can lead to an accelerated heartbeat and frequent palpitations. Sometimes, palpitations can be the earliest sign of perimenopause.
Tobacco, alcohol, caffeine and energy drinks might increase the risk of palpitations. Some studies have linked palpitations to stimulants contained in chocolate as well.
However, a study published on JACC: Clinical Electrophysiology, seems to suggest that up to 300mg a day of caffeine may be beneficial in reducing arrhythmia.
You should have caffeinated drinks in moderation.
Palpitations can be reduced with some lifestyle changes
In most cases, when palpitations are harmless, some lifestyle changes can contribute to making them less frequent or even stop them all together.
Some things that you can try and see if they work for you are:
- Quit smoking
- Limit alcohol and energy drinks
- Avoid stressful situations, when possible
- Practice yoga or meditation to help you cope with stress
- Reduce caffeine
- Lose excess weight
- Don’t over do it at the gym or when you practice sport
However, if you notice that palpitations are often accompanied by other symptoms such as light-headedness, dizziness, blackouts, breathlessness chest pain, have a family history of cardiac disease or the symptoms are very frequent or sustained, then you should definitely consider to see your GP or Cardiologist.
In rare cases, palpitations can indicate serious heart conditions
Although palpitations are usually benign, in a small percentage of cases they can be symptoms of an arrhythmia or severe cardiac conditions.
Examples of cardiac causes of palpitations include Atrial fibrillation (AF), an irregular pulse that can be associated with an increased risk of a stroke; supraventricular tachycardia (SVT),when your heart beats very fast even though you might be at rest causing dizzy spells. An even faster rhythm may include ventricular tachycardia which is when the lower chambers of the heart are accelerating independently of the top chambers and this usually requires urgent attention. Heart block is a condition when your heart stops or beats slowly, and requires medical attention and treatment.
If you are worried about persistent palpitations and other symptoms or have a pre-existing heart condition, you can make an appointment to see one of our Consultant Cardiologists at new Victoria Hospital or book online