Heart palpitations: Causes, Risk Factors, Symptoms, Treatment

Heart palpitations

Heart palpitations can be a concerning and uncomfortable experience for many individuals. The sensation of a rapid or irregular heartbeat can leave people feeling anxious and worried about their overall health. However, it's important to understand that heart palpitations are often benign and not necessarily indicative of a serious underlying condition.

Symptoms of Heart Palpitations

If you're experiencing severe or sudden symptoms, or if you're concerned about your heart health, consult with a Cardiologist.


Heart palpitations can be caused by a variety of factors, ranging from benign to serious. Here are some common causes:

Stress and Anxiety: Emotional stress and anxiety can trigger palpitations by increasing your heart rate.

Caffeine and Stimulants: Excessive consumption of caffeine, nicotine, or other stimulants can lead to palpitations.

Physical Activity: Intense exercise or physical exertion can cause temporary palpitations as the heart rate increases to meet the body's demand for oxygen.

Dehydration: Not drinking enough fluids can lead to electrolyte imbalances, which may cause palpitations.

Medications: Certain medications, such as asthma inhalers, decongestants, and some over-the-counter cold remedies, can cause palpitations as a side effect.

Hormonal Changes: Hormonal fluctuations during pregnancy, menstruation, or menopause can sometimes cause palpitations.

Thyroid Issues: Hyperthyroidism, an overactive thyroid gland, can cause palpitations due to the increased metabolism and heart rate.

Electrolyte Imbalance: Abnormal levels of potassium, magnesium, or calcium in the blood can lead to heart rhythm disturbances and palpitations.

Heart Conditions: In some cases, palpitations may be a symptom of an underlying heart condition, such as arrhythmias (abnormal heart rhythms), heart valve disorders, or cardiomyopathy.

Other Medical Conditions: Palpitations can also be associated with other medical conditions such as fever, anemia, hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), or acid reflux.

Caffeine and Alcohol: Excessive consumption of caffeine or alcohol can trigger palpitations in some individuals.

Risk Factors

Several risk factors can increase the likelihood of experiencing heart palpitations. These factors can include:

Stress and Anxiety: Individuals who experience high levels of stress or anxiety may be more prone to palpitations.

Smoking: Smoking tobacco or using nicotine products can increase the risk of heart palpitations due to the stimulant effect of nicotine on the heart.

Excessive Caffeine Intake: Consuming large amounts of caffeine, such as from coffee, tea, energy drinks, or certain medications, can increase the risk of palpitations.

Alcohol Consumption: Excessive alcohol intake can lead to palpitations, especially if consumed in large quantities or if the individual is sensitive to alcohol.

Drug Use: Certain recreational drugs, such as cocaine, amphetamines, or MDMA (ecstasy), can cause palpitations due to their stimulant effects on the heart.

Medication Side Effects: Some medications, including certain over-the-counter drugs, prescription medications, and supplements, can have palpitations as a side effect.

Medical Conditions: Having certain medical conditions, such as thyroid disorders (hyperthyroidism), high blood pressure (hypertension), or heart disease, can increase the risk of experiencing palpitations.

Family History: A family history of heart rhythm disorders or other cardiac conditions may predispose individuals to palpitations.

Age: Palpitations are more common in older adults, as aging can affect the heart's electrical system and increase the risk of heart rhythm disturbances.

Gender: Some studies suggest that women may be more likely to experience palpitations compared to men, though the reasons for this difference are not fully understood.

Obesity: Being overweight or obese can increase the risk of palpitations, as excess weight can strain the heart and contribute to cardiovascular problems.

Lifestyle Factors: Poor diet, lack of exercise, and inadequate sleep can all contribute to an increased risk of palpitations.


Here are some common symptoms associated with heart palpitations:

Fluttering or Racing Heartbeat: This is the primary sensation experienced during palpitations. It feels like your heart is beating too fast or irregularly.

Pounding in the Chest: Some people describe palpitations as a pounding sensation in their chest, often accompanied by a sensation of forceful heartbeats.

Skipped Beats or Extra Beats: Palpitations can sometimes include skipped beats (a pause between heartbeats) or extra beats (additional, irregular heartbeats).

Dizziness or Lightheadedness: Palpitations may cause a feeling of dizziness or lightheadedness, especially if they're accompanied by a sudden increase in heart rate.

Shortness of Breath: In some cases, palpitations can be accompanied by difficulty breathing or a feeling of breathlessness.

Chest Pain or Discomfort: While palpitations themselves are usually not painful, some people may experience chest pain or discomfort along with palpitations, especially if there's an underlying heart condition.

Sweating: Palpitations can sometimes trigger sweating, particularly if they're associated with anxiety or a sudden increase in heart rate.

Fatigue: Frequent or persistent palpitations may lead to feelings of fatigue or exhaustion, especially if they disrupt sleep or occur during physical activity.

Anxiety or Panic: Palpitations can sometimes cause or exacerbate feelings of anxiety or panic, especially if they're perceived as alarming or if they occur unexpectedly.

Nausea or Abdominal Discomfort: Some people may experience nausea or abdominal discomfort along with palpitations, particularly if they're associated with anxiety or stress.

Need an Appointment?


Medical History: The doctor will likely begin by taking a detailed medical history, including any symptoms you've experienced, your overall health, medications you're taking, and any family history of heart conditions.

Physical Examination: A physical examination may be performed to check for signs of underlying health conditions, such as heart murmurs or abnormal heart rhythms.

Electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG): This is a common test used to record the electrical activity of the heart. It can help detect abnormal heart rhythms or other electrical abnormalities.

Holter Monitor: If palpitations are sporadic, a Holter monitor may be prescribed. This portable device continuously records your heart's electrical activity over a period of 24 to 48 hours, providing a more comprehensive picture of your heart's rhythm during your daily activities.

Event Monitor: Similar to a Holter monitor, an event monitor is worn for a more extended period, often weeks to months. It's activated by the patient when they experience symptoms, allowing for recording during specific events.

Blood Tests: Blood tests may be ordered to check for conditions such as anemia, thyroid problems, or electrolyte imbalances, which can contribute to palpitations.

Echocardiogram: This test uses sound waves to create a detailed image of your heart's structure and function. It can help detect structural abnormalities or issues with the heart's pumping function.

Stress Test: A stress test, also known as an exercise test or treadmill test, may be performed to evaluate how your heart responds to physical activity. This can help identify underlying heart conditions that may be causing palpitations.

Cardiac MRI or CT Scan: In some cases, more advanced imaging tests such as cardiac MRI or CT scan may be recommended to provide detailed images of the heart's structure and function.


Identify Triggers: Keep a journal of when palpitations occur to identify any patterns or triggers. Common triggers include stress, anxiety, caffeine, nicotine, certain medications, and stimulants.

Lifestyle Changes: Making healthy lifestyle changes can help reduce palpitations. This includes managing stress through relaxation techniques like deep breathing or meditation, getting regular exercise, maintaining a healthy weight, and avoiding stimulants like caffeine and nicotine.

Medications: In some cases, medications may be prescribed to help control palpitations. These may include beta-blockers, calcium channel blockers, or anti-arrhythmic drugs. However, medication is typically only used if lifestyle changes aren't effective or if there's an underlying heart condition.

Treating Underlying Conditions: If palpitations are due to an underlying medical condition, such as anemia, thyroid disorders, or heart disease, treating the underlying cause is essential. This may involve medication, lifestyle changes, or other interventions.

Avoiding Triggers: Once triggers are identified, avoiding them can help prevent palpitations. This might involve reducing stress, limiting caffeine and alcohol intake, quitting smoking, and avoiding certain medications known to cause palpitations.

Electrophysiology Study (EPS) and Ablation: In cases where palpitations are due to specific heart rhythm abnormalities, an electrophysiology study may be performed to identify the precise cause. If an abnormal rhythm is found, catheter ablation may be recommended to correct it.

Implantable Devices: In some cases, particularly if palpitations are due to a serious arrhythmia like atrial fibrillation, implantable devices such as pacemakers or implantable cardioverter-defibrillators (ICDs) may be recommended to regulate the heart's rhythm.

Preventive Measures

Manage stress: Stress and anxiety can trigger palpitations. Practice stress-reducing techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, yoga, or hobbies that relax you.

Limit caffeine and stimulants: Caffeine and other stimulants like nicotine can increase heart rate and trigger palpitations. Reduce your intake of caffeinated beverages like coffee, tea, and energy drinks.

Stay hydrated: Dehydration can contribute to heart palpitations. Drink plenty of water throughout the day to maintain proper hydration levels.

Maintain a healthy diet: Eat a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins. Avoid heavy meals and excessive consumption of sugary or fatty foods, which can exacerbate palpitations.

Get regular exercise: Regular physical activity can improve cardiovascular health and reduce the likelihood of palpitations. Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise most days of the week.

Avoid triggers: Identify and avoid any specific triggers that seem to cause palpitations, such as certain medications, alcohol, recreational drugs, or specific foods.

Get enough sleep: Lack of sleep can disrupt your heart rhythm and increase the risk of palpitations. Aim for 7-9 hours of quality sleep each night.

Manage underlying conditions: If you have underlying medical conditions such as thyroid disorders, electrolyte imbalances, or heart disease, work with your healthcare provider to manage them effectively.

Limit alcohol: Excessive alcohol consumption can trigger palpitations. Drink alcohol in moderation or avoid it altogether if you notice a correlation between alcohol intake and palpitations.

Quit smoking: If you smoke, consider quitting. Smoking can negatively impact heart health and increase the risk of palpitations.

Monitor your caffeine intake: Pay attention to how your body reacts to caffeine and consider reducing or eliminating it from your diet if you notice a correlation between caffeine consumption and palpitations.

Practice relaxation techniques: Incorporate relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, or yoga into your daily routine to help manage stress and anxiety, which can contribute to palpitations.

Do's & Don’t's

When it comes to heart palpitations, it is important to be aware of the do's and don'ts in order to effectively manage this condition. By following these guidelines, you can take control of your health and reduce the frequency and intensity of heart palpitations. 

Do's Don't
Do seek medical attention if palpitations are severe, prolonged, or accompanied by chest pain, shortness of breath, dizziness, or fainting. Don't ignore severe or persistent palpitations; they could be a sign of a more serious heart condition.
Do practice stress reduction techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, or yoga to manage anxiety, which can trigger palpitations. Don't consume excessive caffeine or stimulants (e.g., energy drinks) that can worsen palpitations.
Do maintain a healthy lifestyle with regular exercise, a balanced diet, and adequate sleep to promote heart health. Don't smoke or use tobacco products, as they can increase the risk of heart issues.
Do stay well-hydrated, as dehydration can sometimes trigger palpitations. Don't overconsume alcohol, as excessive drinking can lead to irregular heart rhythms.
Do monitor your triggers by keeping a journal of activities, foods, and emotions that may be associated with palpitations. Don't engage in strenuous activity or heavy lifting if you experience palpitations, especially if they are persistent.
Do follow your doctor's advice and take any prescribed medications as directed if you have a known heart condition. Don't self-diagnose or self-medicate without consulting a healthcare professional.
Do stay informed about your heart health and attend regular check-ups with your healthcare provider. Don't rely solely on the internet or anecdotal advice for making decisions about your heart health.


If you're experiencing severe or sudden symptoms, or if you're concerned about your heart health, consult with a Cardiologist.

Frequently Asked Questions
Heart palpitations can be a concerning and uncomfortable experience for many individuals. The sensation of a rapid or irregular heartbeat can leave people feeling anxious and worried about their overall health. However, it's important to understand that heart palpitations are often benign and not necessarily indicative of a serious underlying condition.
In most cases, heart palpitations are caused by temporary factors such as stress, anxiety, caffeine intake, or even physical exertion. These triggers can temporarily disrupt the normal rhythm of the heart, leading to the sensation of palpitations. While they can be alarming in the moment, it's crucial to remember that they usually resolve on their own without any long-term consequences.
The risk of heart palpitations is typically low for individuals with no pre-existing heart conditions. However, certain factors may increase the likelihood of experiencing palpitations. These include excessive caffeine or alcohol consumption, smoking, high levels of stress or anxiety, certain medications or substances, and hormonal changes.
One of the most common symptoms of heart palpitations is a noticeable awareness of one's heartbeat. This can manifest as a racing, pounding, or fluttering sensation in the chest. Individuals may also experience an irregular or skipped heartbeat, which can be accompanied by feelings of lightheadedness or dizziness. In some cases, heart palpitations may be accompanied by other physical symptoms such as shortness of breath, chest pain or discomfort, sweating, and fatigue.
The first step in diagnosing heart palpitations is to consult with a healthcare professional. They will conduct a thorough medical history review and perform a physical examination. This initial assessment helps rule out any obvious triggers or underlying conditions that may be contributing to the palpitations. In some cases, additional diagnostic tests may be necessary. One commonly used test is an electrocardiogram (ECG), which records the electrical activity of the heart. This non-invasive test helps detect any abnormalities in heart rhythm that may be causing the palpitations. Another diagnostic tool that can provide valuable information is a Holter monitor.
In mild cases, lifestyle changes may be sufficient to manage and reduce the frequency of heart palpitations. These changes may include avoiding triggers such as caffeine, alcohol, and tobacco, managing stress levels through relaxation techniques or therapy, maintaining a healthy diet and weight, and engaging in regular exercise.
One of the most effective ways to prevent heart palpitations is to maintain a healthy lifestyle. This includes adopting a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins while limiting your intake of processed foods, saturated fats, and sugary beverages. Regular exercise is also crucial for heart health as it helps improve cardiovascular fitness and reduces the risk of developing conditions such as high blood pressure and obesity. Managing stress plays a significant role in preventing heart palpitations. Stress can trigger or exacerbate episodes of irregular heartbeat, so finding healthy coping mechanisms like meditation, deep breathing exercises, or engaging in hobbies can help reduce stress levels.
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