A heart palpitation is noticeable when it feels like your heart skipped a beat or had an extra beat. It may cause fluttering or pounding in the chest or neck. It can also be a sudden increase in your heart rate.
Heart palpitations don't always happen when you’re doing something strenuous or stressful, and they may not be a symptom of anything serious.
Food and the heart
You may experience heart palpitations after eating for several reasons:
Some dietary supplements people take with meals may cause heart palpitations, including:
- bitter orange, which some people take for heartburn, weight loss, and skin issues
- ephedra, which some people take for colds, headaches, and increasing their energy levels
- ginseng, which some people take for increasing mental and physical energy
- hawthorn, which some people take for heart conditions, including angina
- valerian, which some people take for sleep disorders, anxiety, and depression
Heart palpitations after eating may be related to the meal experience rather than the food. Palpitations can occur due to the act of swallowing. You may sometimes feel palpitations when standing up after being seated for a meal. Emotions can also trigger palpitations, especially if your mealtimes cause anxiety or stress.
Your diet can also cause palpitations.
The following are some diet-related triggers and risk factors:
- Low potassium levels and dehydration can trigger heart palpitations.
- If you’ve been diagnosed with hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar, you may be at higher risk for having heart palpitations due to your diet. High-carbohydrate foods and processed sugars can cause palpitations if you have issues with low blood sugar.
- Alcohol can also play a role. Researchers in a 2014 study in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology found a link between alcohol consumption and atrial fibrillation.
- You could have palpitations due to a food allergy or sensitivity. Heartburn that occurs due to eating spicy or rich foods can also trigger heart palpitations.
- High-sodium foods can cause palpitations, too. Many commons foods, especially canned or processed foods, contain sodium as a preservative.
Foods and drinks with high levels of the amino acid tyramine can cause your blood pressure to increase and lead to heart palpitations. They include:
- aged cheeses
- cured meats
- alcoholic beverages
- dried or overripe fruit
Theobromine, an ingredient commonly found in chocolate, can also increase your heart rate and cause palpitations. Researchers in one study found that theobromine could have a positive effect on your moods. But at high doses, its effects are no longer beneficial.
Is monosodium glutamate (MSG) a trigger?
Although there’s no research to confirm it, researchers suggest that you may have palpitations as a reaction to MSG, which is a flavor enhancer frequently present in Chinese foods and some canned and processed foods. If you think that MSG is causing your heart palpitations, read the labels carefully and avoid foods containing MSG.
Is caffeine a trigger?
Traditionally, doctors believed that palpitations could result from caffeine sensitivity. Caffeine is in many popular foods and drinks, such as:
- energy drinks
However, a January 2016 study suggests that caffeine likely doesn’t cause palpitations. In fact, the researchers propose that some types of caffeine can improve your heart health.
Exercise can make you prone to having heart palpitations. Feeling emotions like fear and panic can also cause them.
Other causes include:
- over-the-counter products, such as cold medications and decongestants with a stimulant effect
- medications for asthma
- medications for heart disease
- medications for high blood pressure
- diet pills
- thyroid hormones
- certain antibiotics
Drastic changes in your hormones can cause palpitations, too. Going through a menstrual cycle, pregnancy, or menopause affects your hormone levels, and these changes can have a noticeable impact on your heart rate. Hot flashes during menopause are notable for causing palpitations. These usually disappear when the hot flash is over.
Some heart conditions can put you at risk for heart palpitations, including:
- an abnormal heart rate, or arrhythmia
- a rapid heart rate, or tachycardia
- a slow heart rate, or bradycardia
- atrial fibrillation
- atrial flutter
- ischemic heart disease, or hardening of the arteries
These heart issues can occur due to existing conditions, including diabetes and high blood pressure. Talk to your doctor about getting tested for heart conditions if you have heart palpitations, especially if you have other conditions that can affect your heart’s health.
When to get medical help
See your doctor if you’ve never had heart palpitations but suspect you’re experiencing them now. They may be benign, but they can also be a symptom of underlying issues, especially if they happen along with other symptoms, such as:
- trouble breathing
- sweating profusely
- chest pain
- pressure or tightness in your chest, upper back, arms, neck, or jaw
Heart palpitations usually stop after a few seconds once your heart rate returns to normal. In some cases, your heart might continue to beat erratically for minutes or more. You might feel pain in your chest and even pass out.
Heart palpitations can be a symptom of a medical condition, including:
- blood loss
- low blood sugar levels
- low carbon dioxide levels in the blood
- low oxygen levels in the blood
- low potassium levels
- an overactive thyroid
See your doctor right away if you’re having palpitations and you’re at risk of heart disease or have been previously diagnosed with heart disease or a heart condition.
Your doctor will likely begin with a physical exam. If your doctor suspects a heart problem, you may need to see a cardiologist. Diagnostic testing may include:
- blood tests
- urine tests
- an electrocardiogram
- an echocardiogram
- a stress test
Your doctor may also recommend a Holter monitor test. For this test, you’ll carry a portable heart rate monitor with you for one to two days so that your doctor can analyze your heart rate over a longer period.
Treatment depends on the diagnosis.
Your doctor may conclude that your heart palpitations aren’t a serious threat to your health. In this case, you’ll likely benefit from lifestyle changes. Avoiding common cold medications with pseudoephedrine and stimulants in food and drinks can limit your palpitations. Quitting smoking can also help.
If your palpitations are a serious issue, your doctor will likely prescribe a beta-blocker or calcium channel blocker. These are antiarrhythmic drugs. They keep your heart rate even and regular by improving blood flow throughout your body. These medications often treat your conditions within a few hours. However, they usually take several months to several years to correct conditions related to arrhythmia.
If your palpitations are life-threatening, your doctor may use a defibrillator or a pacemaker to help get your heart back into a normal rhythm. These treatments will give you immediate results. Your doctor may monitor you over a few days or even a few years to continue treating your heart palpitations.
If your palpitations aren’t due to an underlying medical condition, you may not need medical treatment. If you have palpitations often, try to figure out what foods or activities trigger them. Keep a food diary to see if you can identify specific foods that give you palpitations. In some cases, a single ingredient in your food may be causing them. If you can identify triggers, avoid them and see if the palpitations stop.
If you’re under a lot of stress, therapies such as yoga, meditation, and deep breathing techniques can help alleviate heart palpitations.
No matter what’s causing your palpitations, many treatments are available to help keep your heart rate in check.