The heart beats faster when the body needs more oxygen and nutrition. Therefore, palpitations are a natural, transient reaction to physical exertion, stress, anxiety and fear. Infections, fever and pain also demand more from the heart, without the palpitations being dangerous. However, severe and persistent disturbances of the heart rhythm can be serious and sometimes life-threatening.
If you have heart palpitations in combination with chest pain or fainting, seek emergency care and wait for an ambulance.
The heart is a muscle that pumps blood around the body through rhythmic contractions. A normal heart rate, which measures the heartbeat, usually ranges between 60-80 beats per minute at rest. Children have a higher heart rate – in children under one year the heart can beat 160 beats per minute and up to the age of ten the heart rate can be up to 110 beats per minute at rest. Palpitations are common in both adults and children. Research shows that the heart usually beats extra beats every day. In heart palpitations, in severe cases, heart rate can approach 200 beats per minute in adults.
Heart palpitations can be due to many things. Sometimes the causes are obvious and completely natural, such as physical exertion. Anxiety and stress are other very common explanations for palpitations. Severe anxiety or panic attacks can also cause palpitations. Women may be disturbed by heart palpitations in connection with hormone changes, for example during pregnancy or during menopause. Sometimes palpitations are due to fever, pain or infections. It can also be a reaction to certain drugs or coffee, tobacco or alcohol. Some medicines can also cause side effects in the form of palpitations with increased heart rate.
If the heartbeat is due to a disturbance in the heartbeat, it is called arrhythmia which means that the electrical signals to the heart do not work properly. Too fast a heartbeat, at over a hundred beats per minute, is called tachycardia. A slow heartbeat, below 50 beats per minute, is called bradycardia. Atrial fibrillation is the most common cause of irregular heartbeat. Both atrial fibrillation and tachycardia often give the feeling of palpitations, sometimes even at rest, and can cause dizziness and fatigue.
For example, diabetes (with episodes of low blood sugar), thyroid problems, anemia and some lung diseases can affect the heart rhythm. There are also innate or hereditary factors that can affect the heart rate. Heart failure can be another explanation – then the heart must beat faster to pump the blood out to the body.
In more severe cases, palpitations can be one of several signs of cardiovascular disease that can, in the worst case, lead to cardiac arrest. Heart palpitations in combination with chest pain can sometimes be a sign of a heart attack.
Palpitations mean that the heart beats faster than usual. Some describe it as heartbreak, while others experience an irregular rhythm or that the heart beats extra hard. Sometimes it can feel like the heart is beating and then jumping.
Other symptoms associated with palpitations:
- rapid breathing and shortness of breath
- chest pain
- dizziness and fainting
- numbness in the body.
Prevention and protection
To find out if the heart is actually beating abnormally fast, or has an irregular rhythm, you can measure the pulse. Put two fingers on the wrist or neck and count the number of beats for one minute.
Some good advice:
- try to breathe calmly and unwind
- disperse worries, meditate, focus on something else or change environment
- reduce stress in everyday life
- be physically active and sleep well
- Review your diet and avoid coffee, tea, smoking and alcohol
Heart palpitations can be due to many different things, and vary from completely harmless to serious conditions. So there is no universal treatment that applies to everyone.
Heart palpitations that can be clearly linked to anxiety or stress do not usually require medical treatment. The solution is to reduce the stress of everyday life or find ways to deal with tension or anxiety.
In case of sudden or long-term problems, or if you are worried about the heart palpitations, it is important to investigate the symptoms.
At a doctor’s visit, blood pressure and ECG (electrocardiography) that measure the heart rhythm are checked. (Sometimes also exercise ECG or long-term ECG are measured.) Blood tests can provide important information about underlying medical conditions. Some symptoms may require ultrasound examination or various types of x-rays to rule out heart disease.
The treatment required is based on what emerges during the investigation and any risk factors such as high cholesterol. Methods that cure or alleviate the symptoms range from stress prevention measures to medication and various types of surgery. Sometimes there is a reason to use a pacemaker to treat arrhythmia.
When to consult a doctor
If you suffer from heart palpitations repeatedly, you should seek medical attention. In case of sudden heart palpitations, which you cannot explain as a natural reaction to stress or anxiety, for example, you should also consult a doctor.
If you have irregular heartbeats or persistent disturbances of the heart rhythm in combination with chest pain, seek urgent care. If you have sudden heart palpitations without any clear triggering factor, you will also need immediate care, especially if you are simultaneously breathing, dizzy or nauseous – call and wait for an ambulance.
How APPOTEK can help
If you have sudden or persistent heart palpitations, you should seek emergency care. If these are minor issues, APPOTEK can help you. A nurse or a physician will make an individual assessment based on your symptoms. You may then be prescribed treatment or referred for further treatment. In the case of palpitations, a physical examination is often required.