Palpitations – When to Worry and see a Doctor ?

Dr Chetan Rathi
MBBS, MD (Medicine) (Gold Medalist)
DNB (Cardiology)
Orange City Hospital and Research Centre, Nagpur

Believing that something could be wrong with your heart is a scary feeling. Heart palpitations can make you fear the worst, but palpitations are actually quite common and usually nothing to worry about. However, that’s not to say that you should ignore them completely. Rarely, they could be a sign of a more serious condition like Atrial Fibrillation or Ventricular Tachycardia. Knowing when to worry about heart palpitations can help you catch certain conditions early so that you can seek treatment.

What are Heart Palpitations?
Have you ever felt your heart skip a beat or flutter in your chest?? If so, you’ve experienced heart palpitations. A broad medical term, the term “palpitation” can mean many different things, including:

  • Feeling like your heart is beating too quickly
  • Feeling your heart thump in your chest
  • A heartbeat that feels irregular/out of rhythm/skips a beat

Any sensation that makes you aware of your heart beating is a type of palpitation. You can even feel these sensations in your throat or neck.

Common Triggers
If you’re worried that your heart palpitations are the result of a heart problem, here’s some good news – most palpitations are not caused by heart-related issues. Instead, they are commonly triggered by:

  • Exercise
  • Stress/Anxiety
  • Alcohol
  • Stimulants (caffeine)
  • Nicotine withdrawal
  • Hormonal changes during pregnancy
  • Low blood sugar

How to Reduce Heart Palpitations at Home

For the most part, palpitations caused by non-heart related triggers can be treated with simple home remedies.

For example, if you only feel your heart race when you’re anxious or stressed, relaxation techniques like meditation and deep breathing could be the key to reducing these palpitations. Likewise, a thumping heart caused by stimulant use can be calmed by reducing your intake of tobacco products and caffeine. If you’re taking any medication, tell your doctor about the palpitations you’re experiencing to find out if your medication could be causing them.

Hydration and diet play a big role, too. Being dehydrated or having low levels of potassium can also trigger heart palpitations. If you have low blood sugar, eating too many carbohydrate-rich foods and processed sugars can increase your likelihood of experiencing palpitations.

When to See a Doctor

Nearly everyone will experience heart palpitations at some point. A majority of the time, they’ll be completely benign (not harmful). Other times, it could be your heart trying to tell you that something’s wrong.

You should call your doctor if your heart palpitations last longer than a few seconds at a time or occur frequently.
If you’re healthy, you don’t need to worry about brief heart palpitations that only happen every now and then. That being said, it’s still a good idea to monitor your palpitations and keep track of how often they happen and how long they last.

Sometimes, heart palpitations are a sign of a serious type of arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat) such as Atrial Fibrillation or ventricular tachycardia (VT), or even heart failure.

Don’t Panic (But Don’t Ignore the Signs, Either)

At the end of the day, most heart palpitations are as harmless as hiccups. If you are otherwise healthy and only experience them from time to time, you have no reason to panic.

However, while heart palpitations are usually not dangerous, it’s still in your best interest to get your symptoms checked by a cardiologist if the problem persists. And if your palpitations are accompanied by other symptoms, such as dizziness or weakness, it could be a sign of a more serious condition that shouldn’t be ignored.