SymptomChecker

There are 38 possible causes of palpitations

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Heart Palpitations

A heart palpitation is the sensation that your heart has skipped a beat or added an extra beat. It may feel like your heart is racing, pounding, or fluttering. You may become overly aware of your heartbeat. This sensation is sometimes also felt in the neck, throat, or chest. While you are having palpitations, your heart rhythm may or may not be abnormal.

Heart palpitations can be caused by a variety of factors, including caffeine, exercise, smoking, or stress.

Although they can be quite unsettling, most heart palpitations are harmless and resolve on their own without treatment.

Rarely, heart palpitations are a sign of a serious condition. Seek medical attention immediately if your heart palpitations are accompanied by other symptoms such as chest pain, fainting, difficulty breathing, or if you have previously diagnosed heart problems.

Causes of Heart Palpitations

Heart palpitations can be caused by a wide variety of things, including:

  • strenuous exercise
  • caffeine (coffee, tea, chocolate, and cola drinks)
  • nicotine from tobacco products such as cigarettes and cigars
  • stress, anxiety, fear, or panic
  • dehydration
  • hormonal changes, including pregnancy
  • electrolyte abnormalities
  • low blood sugar
  • anemia
  • overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism)
  • low levels of oxygen or carbon dioxide in the blood
  • blood loss
  • shock
  • fever
  • over-the-counter medications, including cold and cough medications, herbal supplements, and nutritional supplements
  • prescription medications, including beta blockers, asthma inhalers, and decongestants
  • illegal drugs such as amphetamines and cocaine

Most heart palpitations are benign (harmless), but they can be a sign of illness when you also have:

  • irregular heartbeat or rhythm changes (arrhythmia)
  • previously diagnosed heart disease
  • heart disease risk factors
  • a defective heart valve

Seek medical attention right away if your palpitations are accompanied by:

  • dizziness or lightheadedness
  • fainting
  • loss of consciousness
  • confusion
  • breathing difficulty
  • profuse perspiration
  • pain, pressure, or tightening in your chest
  • pain in your arms, neck, chest, jaw, or upper back
  • a resting pulse rate of more than 100 beats per minute

These could be signs of a more serious condition.

Diagnosing the Cause of Heart Palpitations

The cause of heart palpitations can be very difficult to diagnose, especially if the palpitations don’t occur while you are in the doctor’s office.

Your physician will probably conduct a thorough physical examination to identify a cause. Be prepared to answer questions about your physical activities, stress levels, prescription and over-the-counter medication and supplement use, and previously diagnosed health conditions.

If necessary, your doctor may refer you to a heart specialist (cardiologist). Tests to help rule out certain diseases or heart problems include:

  • blood tests
  • urine tests
  • a stress test
  • Holter monitor (a portable machine that records the heart’s rhythm for 24 hours)
  • echocardiogram (ultrasound of the heart)
  • electrocardiogram (EKG)
  • X-ray of the chest
  • electrophysiology study (EPS, to check the heart’s electrical function)
  • coronary angiography (to check how blood flows through your heart)

Treatment for Heart Palpitations

Treatment depends on the cause of your palpitations. Any underlying medical conditions will have to be addressed.

Most of the time, no cause for palpitations is found, and no treatment is advised.

If your palpitations are due to controllable lifestyle choices such as smoking or too much caffeine, simply cutting down or eliminating those substances may be all that is needed. If you think medication may be the problem, ask your doctor about alternative medications or treatments.

Preventing Heart Palpitations

If your doctor tells you that treatment is not necessary, there are steps you can take to decrease your chance of palpitations:

  • Keep a log of your activities, as well as the foods and beverages you eat. Note incidents of heart palpitations. Try to identify your triggers and avoid them.
  • If you are anxious or stressed, try relaxation exercises, deep breathing, yoga, tai chi, etc.
  • Limit or stop your intake of alcohol and caffeine.
  • Don’t smoke or use tobacco products.
  • If medication is causing palpitations, ask your doctor if there are any alternatives.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Stick to a healthy diet and try to keep blood pressure and cholesterol levels under control.

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Possible Causes - Listed in order from the most common to the least.

1

Anxiety

What is anxiety? Anxiety often manifests itself as an apprehension about daily life. Learn the basics with this overview of the types of anxiety disorders.

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2

Panic Disorder

Panic disorder occurs when you live in fear of having a panic attack. You are having a panic attack when you feel sudden, overwhelming terror that has no obvious cause. You may experience physical symptoms such as ...

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3

Generalized Anxiety Disorder

People who suffer from generalized anxiety disorder, or GAD, worry uncontrollably about common occurrences and situations. The condition may also be called chronic anxiety neurosis.GAD is different than normal feeling...

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4

Hyperventilation

Hyperventilation happens when you suddenly start breathing very quickly. Exhaling more than you inhale causes low carbon dioxide levels, which leads to lightheadedness and tingling in the fingers.

Read more »

5

Abnormal Heart Rhythms

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

An abnormal heart rhythm (arrhythmia) is a change in the heart's beating pattern. There are many different types with different causes and effects. Possible symptoms are feeling faint, chest pain, and sweating.

Read more »

6

Hyperthyroidism

The thyroid gland is a small butterfly-shaped gland located at the front of the neck below your Adam's apple. It produces tetraiodothyronine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3), two hormones which control how your cells us...

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7

Drug Allergy Overview

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

Drug allergies occur when your immune system mistakes a drug for a harmful substance, triggering an inflammatory response (allergic reaction). This reaction is different from the side effects caused by a medication.

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8

Mitral Valve Prolapse

Your mitral valve is located on the left side of your heart, between two chambers, the atrium and the ventricle. Blood is pumped from the left atrium through the mitral valve and into the left ventricle on its way t...

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9

Heart Murmurs and Other Sounds

The most common abnormal heart sound is a heart murmur. A murmur is a blowing, whooshing, or rasping sound that occurs during a heartbeat. There are two kinds of heart murmurs, innocent and abnormal murmurs. An innocen...

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10

Hypertensive Heart Disease

Hypertensive heart disease refers to heart conditions caused by high blood pressure. Possible signs of acute hypertension include sweating and chills.

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11

Ventricular Septal Defects

A ventral septal defect, more commonly known as a ventricular septal defect (VSD), is a hole between the heart's lower chambers (ventricles). The defect can occur anywhere within the muscle dividing the two sides of th...

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12

Septic Shock

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

Septic shock is what happens as a complication of an infection where toxins can initiate a full-body inflammatory response. It often occurs in people who are elderly or have a weakened immune system. It is thought tha...

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13

Low Blood Sugar (Hypoglycemia)

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

Also known as hypoglycemia, low blood sugar can be a dangerous condition. People often complain about low blood sugar. However, serious hypoglycemia is rare in adults and children over the age of 10 who are no...

Read more »

14

Paroxysmal Supraventricular Tachycardia (PSVT)

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

Paroxysmal supraventricular tachycardia (PSVT) is a faster-than-normal heart rate. The term paroxysmal means that it only happens from time to time. In the case of PSVT, the rapid heart rate can last from a few minute...

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15

Atrial Flutter

Atrial flutter (AFL) is a type of abnormal heart rate, or arrhythmia. It occurs when the upper chambers of your heart (the atria) beat too fast. When the top of your heart (atria) beats faster than the botto...

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16

Atrial Fibrillation and Flutter

Atrial fibrillation and atrial flutter are irregular heart rhythms that occur when the upper chambers of your heart (the atria) beat too fast.Atrial fibrillation can be sustained or can occur in bursts. It creates a...

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17

Ventricular Tachycardia

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

Ventricular tachycardia (VT) is a very fast heartbeat caused by a malfunction in one of the heart's ventricles. It is a pulse of more than 100 beats per minute with at least three irregular heartbeats in a row. VT ca...

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18

Mitral Valve Stenosis

Your mitral valve is located on the left side of your heart, between two chambers, the atrium and the ventricle. Blood is pumped from the left atrium through the mitral valve and into the left ventricle on its way t...

Read more »

19

Thyroid Storm

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

Thyroid storm is a life-threatening health condition that is associated with untreated or undertreated hyperthyroidism. During thyroid storm, an individual's heart rate, blood pressure, and body temperature can soar t...

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20

Myocarditis

Myocarditis is inflammation of the heart muscle. It is a rare condition that can be caused by any number of autoimmune diseases, viral, bacterial, or fungal infections, or parasites. When you have an infection or a...

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This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to diagnose.
Please consult a healthcare professional if you have health concerns.
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