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Heart Palpitations: What You Need To Know

Every second, your heart hums along, doing its job in the background as you go about your life. That’s why it can be jarring when your heart announces its presence through heart palpitations. It can feel like your heart is pounding, fluttering or skipping beats. All you know is that your heart isn’t behaving the way it should be. And it can be frightening.

What Causes Heart Palpitations?

Fortunately, palpitations are fairly common and usually aren’t dangerous. They can be caused by a wide range of things, including COVID. That doesn’t mean the heart was damaged, but it is part of the recovery. Among other common causes:

  • Stress, anxiety and fear
  • Pregnancy
  • Caffeine
  • Asthma inhalers
  • Beta blockers taken for heart disease or high blood pressure
  • Alcohol
  • Smoking
  • Exercise
  • Cough medicine
  • Herbal supplements
  • Fever
  • Dehydration

Should You Worry?

If you experience brief palpitations, or if they happen rarely, there’s probably no need to rush to the doctor. Instead, mention them during your annual physical. If they start to occur more frequently or if you find them particularly alarming, it won’t hurt to see your doctor or a cardiologist sooner.

You should seek out your doctor immediately if the palpitations become markedly worse or are accompanied by other symptoms, including:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain or pressure in your chest
  • Dizziness
  • Lightheadedness
  • Unexplained sweating

More often than not, heart palpitations are not a threat to your health. But being examined by a doctor may offer significant value for your piece of mind.

How Are Heart Palpitations Diagnosed?

Your doctor will start by doing an in-depth review of your medical history. Your doctor also will want to know more about your symptoms, diet and any medications or herbal supplements you are taking. From there, one or more tests may be recommended, including:

Electrocardiogram (EKG): This quick, painless test can be done in your doctor’s office. Small electrodes are attached to your body to help measure your heart’s electrical activity.

Blood/urine tests: These can identify iron deficiencies, low blood sugar and other issues.

Holter monitor: This is a portable EKG monitor that you wear for a day or as long as 30 days to record your heart’s activity and rhythm. It can pick up palpitations that aren’t witnessed during an office EKG.

Event recording: If you palpitations do not occur often enough to be picked up by a Holter monitor, this may be an option. This device can be implanted under the skin for longer periods – up to one year. When the palpitations occur, you push a button to take recordings of your heart.

Stress test:  With these painless tests, you exercise on a treadmill or stationary bike while attached to various monitors. Your doctor will evaluate how your heart is performing.

Echocardiogram: Also known as a heart ultrasound, this painless test uses soundwaves to generate images of your heart. It can identify structural problems and evaluate your heart’s function.

Preventing Heart Palpitations

You often can make palpitations go away simply by making lifestyle changes, such as quitting smoking or cutting back on your alcohol consumption. Eliminate spicy foods and caffeinated drinks from your diet. And consider dialing down your workout intensity. To reduce stress and anxiety, you can try various relaxation techniques, including yoga, biofeedback and deep-breathing exercises.

However, some palpitations are caused by underlying medical conditions, including heart disease or abnormal heart rhythm. Medication may be needed to control blood pressure and cholesterol levels. In some situations, medications such as beta blockers may be prescribed to help with symptoms. And in some cases, your doctor may recommend a heart procedure, surgery or pacemaker.

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