Heart Palpitations

Overview

What Are Heart Palpitations?

Heart palpitations are the sensation that your heart is racing or pounding. They can make you feel like your heart has skipped a beat or is fluttering, and you might feel them in your neck or chest.

Some heart palpitations are temporary, while others are more serious. For all kinds of palpitations, you can count on personalized, compassionate care from our heart health experts at Aurora Health Care.

Our Cardiac Electrophysiology department specializes in diagnosing, managing and treating irregular heartbeats and heart rhythm disorders. We were the first in Wisconsin to introduce a hybrid atrial fibrillation procedure that restores normal heart rhythms. This procedure is quick, minimally invasive and nearly painless. It also has a higher success rate than other AFib ablation procedures.

Learn more about our hybrid ablation procedure.

Symptoms

Heart Palpitations: Symptoms

Most heart palpitations are harmless, but you should talk to your doctor if you frequently experience palpitations or if you:

  • Feel light-headed, or if you faint (syncope)
  • Have pain, pressure or tightness in your chest, jaw or arms
  • Are short of breath or having trouble breathing
  • Sweat more than usual

Causes

What Causes Heart Palpitations?

Heart palpitations can happen without any noticeable reason, and without causing long-term effects.

Many factors can trigger heart palpitations. These triggers may include:

  • Stress
  • Exercise
  • Caffeine, nicotine and illegal drugs
  • Pregnancy
  • Medical conditions such as fever, low blood sugar, anemia, dehydration or overactive thyroid
  • Medications such as cold medicines, asthma inhalers or thyroid pills
  • Eating rich foods, foods high in fat or sugar, or foods containing MSG (monosodium glutamate)

Sometimes, heart palpitations might be related to a heart condition, such as:

Diagnosis

Diagnosing Heart Palpitations and Their Cause

Heart palpitations can come and go. Your doctor can’t always predict them, and they may not happen while you are with your doctor.

To help your doctor make an accurate diagnosis, it’s a good idea to keep a record of your palpitations before your appointment. Take notes about:

  • When you have palpitations
  • What they feel like
  • How long they last
  • How often they happen
  • What you think might bring them on

Your doctor will perform a physical exam, which may lead to lab or diagnostic tests, such as:

  • Electrocardiogram (EKG), which reports on your heart’s rhythm
  • Holter monitoring, which entails sending a monitor home with you for 24 to 48 hours, so your doctor can see how your heart works throughout the course of a normal day
  • Event monitoring, which records heart rhythms for about a month
  • Heart ultrasound, which gives doctors an image of your heart
  • An implantable loop recorder, a minor procedure that helps to diagnose heart rhythm disorders by monitoring your heart rhythm for weeks or months

Learn more about heart and vascular diagnosis and testing at Aurora.

Treatment

Treating the Underlying Cause of Heart Palpitations

If your heart palpitations don’t appear to be caused by anything specific, we might suggest lifestyle changes, including:

  • Avoiding stimulants like caffeine
  • Taking medications to help you quit smoking
  • Practicing relaxation exercises, yoga or meditation

If a heart condition or another medical issue is triggering your palpitations, we will work with you on a treatment plan for the underlying condition.

Specific treatment will depend on what is causing the heart palpitations. Your care might include:

  • Medications: Your doctor might prescribe drugs to help restore your regular heart rhythm. These medications might include beta blockers, calcium channel blockers or other proven medications.
  • Cardiac ablation: During an outpatient procedure, a doctor threads tiny wires through veins in the leg and into the heart. The procedure lets doctors find the cause of the arrhythmia and burn the area slightly so the problem no longer occurs. Learn more about cardiac ablation.
  • Cardioversion: Cardioversion is a quick procedure, performed under anesthesia. It works to return the heartbeat to a normal rhythm, using electric shock. People usually go home an hour or two after the procedure. Find out more about cardioversion.
  • Implantable defibrillator: For some types of arrhythmia, doctors may implant an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD). This device identifies specific kinds of arrhythmia and corrects the heart’s rhythm automatically. Read more about ICDs.

Learn more about cardiac electrophysiology.

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