Can Acid Reflux Cause Heart Palpitations?

Medically reviewed by Deborah Weatherspoon, Ph.D, MSN, RN, CRNA on May 6, 2016Written by Kelli Hansen, RN, CMCN, CSA, CDP on May 6, 2016

Overview

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), also known as acid reflux, can sometimes cause a tightening sensation in the chest. But can it also cause heart palpitations? Palpitations can occur during activity or rest, and they have several possible causes. However, it’s unlikely that GERD is causing your heart palpitations.

What do heart palpitations feel like?

Heart palpitations can cause a fluttering sensation in the chest or a feeling that your heart has skipped a beat. You may also feel like your heart is beating too fast or is pumping harder than normal.

If you have GERD, you may sometimes feel tightness in your chest, but this is not the same as having heart palpitations.

What causes palpitations?

It’s unlikely that acid reflux will cause heart palpitations directly. Anxiety may be a cause of palpitations. If the symptoms of GERD make you anxious, GERD can be an indirect cause of palpitations.

Possible causes of palpitations include:

  • caffeine
  • nicotine
  • a fever
  • stress
  • physical overexertion
  • hormone changes
  • some medications that contain stimulants, such as cough and cold medications and asthma inhalants

Risk factors for palpitations

Risk factors for palpitations include:

  • having anemia
  • having hyperthyroidism, or an overactive thyroid
  • being pregnant
  • having heart or heart valve conditions
  • having a history of a heart attack

GERD isn’t a known direct cause of heart palpitations.

Learn more: Should heart palpitations during pregnancy concern me?

How are heart palpitations diagnosed?

Your doctor will perform a physical exam, which will include listening to your heart with a stethoscope. They may also feel your thyroid to see if it’s swollen. If you have a swollen thyroid, you may have an overactive thyroid.

You may also need one or more of these noninvasive tests:

Electrocardiogram (ECG)

You may need an ECG. Your doctor may ask you to take this test while you’re at rest or while you exercise. During this test, your doctor will record the electrical impulses from your heart and track your heart rhythm.

Holter monitor

Your doctor may ask you to wear a Holter monitor. This device can record your heart rhythm for 24 to 72 hours. For this test, you’ll use a portable device to record an ECG. Your doctor can use the results to determine if you’re having heart palpitations that a normal ECG may not pick up.

Event recorder

Your doctor may ask you to use an event recorder. An event recorder can record your heartbeats on demand. If you feel a heart palpitation, you can push a button on the recorder to track the event.

Echocardiogram

An echocardiogram is another noninvasive test. This test includes a chest ultrasound. Your doctor will use the ultrasound to view the function and structure of your heart.

How are heart palpitations treated?

If your heart palpitations aren’t related to a heart condition, it’s unlikely that your doctor will provide any specific treatment. They may suggest that you make lifestyle changes and avoid triggers. Some of these lifestyle changes may also help GERD, such as reducing your caffeine intake.

Reducing the stress in your life may also help treat heart palpitations. To reduce stress, you may try any of the following:

  • Add regular activity into your day, such as yoga, meditation, or mild to moderate exercise, to help increase endorphins and reduce stress.
  • Practice deep breathing exercises.
  • Avoid activities that cause anxiety when possible.

What should you do if you have heart palpitations?

If you begin to experience chest pains or tightness, you should seek medical attention. Heart palpitations could be a symptom of a serious heart-related condition. You shouldn’t ignore them.

Learn about your family history. If you have a family member that has had any type of heart disease, this increases your risk of having a heart attack. Unless your doctor instructs you otherwise, call 911 or go to the emergency room if you feel sudden, intense heart palpitations. This is especially true if they are accompanied by shortness of breath, chest pain, or a feeling or weakness. This could be a symptom of a heart arrhythmia or attack.

What should you do before your doctor’s appointment?

Even if the doctor in the emergency room determines that you don’t need emergency care, you should still plan to see your doctor about your heart palpitations. Before your doctor’s appointment, you should do the following:

  • Write down the symptoms you’re having as you experience them.
  • Write down a list of your current medications.
  • Write down any questions that you may have for your doctor.
  • Bring these three lists with you to your appointment.
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