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What are palpitations, and are they serious?
Palpitations describes the symptom of an increased awareness of your heart beat. Your heart may feel like it’s pounding, fluttering or beating irregularly and/or fast. This can last for a few seconds or minutes at a time. These sensations may also be felt in the throat or neck.
Palpitations may feel alarming, but in most cases they’re harmless and are not a sign of a serious problem. If they only happen occasionally, there’s usually no reason to see a doctor. However, it may be a good idea to see a doctor if the palpitations:
What causes palpitations?
Palpitations can have a variety of benign causes; strenuous exercise, insufficient sleep, excessive consumption of caffeine or alcohol, smoking, stress or anxiety, and certain medications such as salbutamol, antihistamines, the antibiotic erthyromycin and some antidepressants such as citalopram.
How can you stop heart palpitations?
The most common causes of heart palpitations are extra beats, or ectopics. Extra beats arise from any part of the heart, and are invariably benign. The vast majority of people have them, but do not necessarily experience symptoms.
Lifestyle factors can contribute to feeling symptomatic – namely due to alcohol or caffeine consumption, lack of sleep or stress. As such, the best way to help prevent palpitations is to address these factors, for example by reducing your alcohol or caffeine consumption, ensuring you get at least 7 hours of sleep every night and trying to manage your stress levels during the day.
What risks are associated with palpitations?
The health risks from palpitations very much depend on their cause, so if you are concerned about your palpitations, an ECG would be recommended, as well as a continuous heart monitor. An ECG provides an electrical overview of the heart, while the heart monitor would allow your doctor to correlate your symptoms to what’s going on inside your heart – this would help them to try and ascertain the cause of your palpitations and therefore what steps should be taken going forward to alleviate your symptoms.
Do palpitations need treatment?
Palpitations often don’t need any treatment at all; they may be completely benign, and can be alleviated by simple lifestyle changes, e.g. reducing your consumption of tea, coffee or alcohol, getting more exercise. Sometimes, if there is an underlying condition causing the palpitations, this may need further treatment with medications and/or an ablation procedure, particularly if there is diseased tissue in the heart which is contributing to your palpitations.
How can I prevent heart palpitations?
The main first step is to try and identify the triggers for your palpitations; for example, do they occur when you’re tired, when you’re not sleeping enough, or when you’ve been drinking too much coffee? These are very common triggers for palpitations; by eliminating any triggers (if possible), you should notice your palpitations beginning to improve.
Secondly, you can perform certain manoeuvres and breathing exercises, such as the Valsalva manoeuvre (where the patient blows into a syringe whilst lying down, face up, for 15 seconds), which change the pressure inside the chest cavity and can be effective at stopping your palpitations, particularly if they are persistent. It is important, however, not to ignore your palpitations if you are concerned and to get them assessed by a GP or cardiologist.
Get in touch
Would you like to talk with someone at OneWelbeck about meeting with a cardiologist to discuss palpitations or a specific heart problem?
Please get in touch with us via our contact form– leave your details, and we will be in contact regarding your enquiry. In the meantime, we recommend reading our dedicated palpitations page to learn more about the symptom and how it is treated at OneWelbeck.
Written by Dr Balvinder Wasan, Consultant Cardiologist at OneWelbeck Heart Health, specialising in cardiovascular disease.