Palpitations

ExitCare ImageA palpitation is the feeling that your heartbeat is irregular or is faster than normal. It may feel like your heart is fluttering or skipping a beat. Palpitations are usually not a serious problem. However, in some cases, you may need further medical evaluation.

CAUSES

Palpitations can be caused by:

  • Smoking.

  • Caffeine or other stimulants, such as diet pills or energy drinks.

  • Alcohol.

  • Stress and anxiety.

  • Strenuous physical activity.

  • Fatigue.

  • Certain medicines.

  • Heart disease, especially if you have a history of arrhythmias. This includes atrial fibrillation, atrial flutter, or supraventricular tachycardia.

  • An improperly working pacemaker or defibrillator.

DIAGNOSIS

To find the cause of your palpitations, your caregiver will take your history and perform a physical exam. Tests may also be done, including:

  • Electrocardiography (ECG). This test records the heart's electrical activity.

  • Cardiac monitoring. This allows your caregiver to monitor your heart rate and rhythm in real time.

  • Holter monitor. This is a portable device that records your heartbeat and can help diagnose heart arrhythmias. It allows your caregiver to track your heart activity for several days, if needed.

  • Stress tests by exercise or by giving medicine that makes the heart beat faster.

TREATMENT

Treatment of palpitations depends on the cause of your symptoms and can vary greatly. Most cases of palpitations do not require any treatment other than time, relaxation, and monitoring your symptoms. Other causes, such as atrial fibrillation, atrial flutter, or supraventricular tachycardia, usually require further treatment.

HOME CARE INSTRUCTIONS

  • Avoid:

  • Caffeinated coffee, tea, soft drinks, diet pills, and energy drinks.

  • Chocolate.

  • Alcohol.

  • Stop smoking if you smoke.

  • Reduce your stress and anxiety. Things that can help you relax include:

  • A method that measures bodily functions so you can learn to control them (biofeedback).

  • Yoga.

  • Meditation.

  • Physical activity such as swimming, jogging, or walking.

  • Get plenty of rest and sleep.

SEEK MEDICAL CARE IF:

  • You continue to have a fast or irregular heartbeat beyond 24 hours.

  • Your palpitations occur more often.

SEEK IMMEDIATE MEDICAL CARE IF:

  • You develop chest pain or shortness of breath.

  • You have a severe headache.

  • You feel dizzy, or you faint.

MAKE SURE YOU:

  • Understand these instructions.

  • Will watch your condition.

  • Will get help right away if you are not doing well or get worse.