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battling heart palpitations
By In-house Team, Circle Health Group

Battling heart palpitations: you're not alone

Heart palpitations can feel scary, but they are often nothing to worry about

What heart palpitations feel like

Heart palpitations are common, and most people will experience them at some point in their lives. You might feel a fluttering, pounding sensation in your chest, throat, or even your neck. Some people say it feels like their heart is skipping and racing.

Because your heart is beating faster or differently than usual, you might be very aware of how your heartbeat feels, which can be unsettling. These palpitations are typically fleeting, lasting just a few seconds or minutes, but they can go on for longer.

While they can feel scary and uncomfortable and happen without warning, heart palpitations are usually harmless.

Causes and risk factors

One of the reasons heart palpitations are so common is that there are many possible causes. Some of these are lifestyle factors, like feeling stressed or drinking too much coffee or alcohol. There are also a range of health conditions, both heart-related and otherwise, that can lead to heart palpitations.

If you've experienced heart palpitations, you might want to reflect on what happened that day in order to pin down possible causes. If you are experiencing heart palpitations more regularly, you can even keep a diary to monitor your habits and try to identify any correlations between your behaviours and having palpitations.

One of the reasons heart palpitations are so common is that there are many possible causes.

Diet and lifestyle factors


When you're stressed, your body releases a flood of hormones. One of these, adrenaline, makes your heart beat faster. This is part of your body's natural fight-or-flight response, and it's preparing to protect itself in the face of danger. Your body can't tell the difference between physical danger that might actually hurt you - like being chased by a wild animal - and the stress of a busy email inbox.

In stressful situations, you can also become more aware of your heartbeat. Your body can tense up, and as your heart beats faster, it can lead to palpitations.

Strenuous exercise

Sometimes, doing a particularly tough workout can cause heart palpitations. When your body is working hard, your heart rate increases. You might also become dehydrated throughout your workout, and if you've consumed caffeine beforehand, the combination of these factors might lead you to have palpitations.


All the medications we take come with side effects, and you may be surprised to find out that some common ones can actually cause heart palpitations. Some examples include decongestants, certain antibiotics, and diet pills. Certain herbal supplements, like ma huang and ginseng, can also cause palpitations.

It's a good idea to speak with a doctor before taking anything new. If you think one of your medications is causing heart palpitations, you should speak with a doctor.


Foods high in fat, sodium, and sugar can cause heart palpitations. There's also some evidence that food additives, like artificial sweeteners and MSG, may cause them. Pay attention to foods you may have eaten before having palpitations and write down your potential triggers.


You probably know that caffeine is a stimulant - and that may well be the reason you choose to drink your morning coffee. While caffeine is healthy in moderate doses, consuming too much of it can trigger palpitations.


Like caffeine, nicotine is also a stimulant, which means it increases your heart rate and blood pressure. Taking in too much can put you at risk for heart palpitations.

Drugs and alcohol

Both alcohol and recreational drugs can cause heart rhythm problems, potentially leading to palpitations. It's particularly important to avoid them if you have an underlying health condition.

Health conditions that cause heart palpitations


If you're dehydrated, you can have an electrolyte imbalance. This makes your heartbeat faster, possibly leading to palpitations.

Hormonal changes

In particular, the hormonal changes women go through during menstruation, pregnancy, and the menopause can cause heart palpitations.


Heart palpitations are one of the possible symptoms of iron deficiency anaemia. If you have anaemia, you might also have symptoms like shortness of breath, dizziness, and fatigue.

Low blood sugar

If your blood sugar is too low, you can feel dizzy, shaky, hungry, and irritable - and you may also experience heart palpitations.

Overactive thyroid

Hyperthyroidism is a medical condition where your thyroid gland produces too much thyroid hormone. In addition to palpitations, it can make you feel hyperactive, itchy, anxious, and thirsty.

Heart conditions that cause heart palpitations

Premature ventricular contractions (PVCs)

PVCs are a type of irregular heartbeat. They happen when the ventricles, which are the lower chambers of your heart, produce extra beats that can cause heart rhythm problems. While many people with PVCs have palpitations as their only symptom, you might also have chest pain, light headedness, and anxiety.


Also known as an abnormal heartbeat, arrhythmias can make your heart beat too quickly, too slowly, or irregularly. In addition to palpitations, you might experience dizziness, fainting, and shortness of breath.

Congenital heart defects

Congenital heart defect is an umbrella term for a wide range of heart conditions that you're born with. Usually, they resolve on their own in childhood, but they can persist into adulthood. If you have one, you might experience palpitations, a blue tinge to your skin, and rapid breathing.

Heart palpitations vs. arrhythmia: understanding the difference

You've probably heard of heart arrhythmias before, and we briefly touched on them in the last section. Sometimes people use the terms arrhythmia and palpitations interchangeably, but it's important that you know the key differences between the two.

Arrhythmia means your heartbeat is abnormal. It might beat too fast, too slow, or with an irregular rhythm. On the other hand, heart palpitations are a short-lived fluttering, skipping, or pounding in your chest. They're not an ongoing health condition, and having them doesn't necessarily mean you have an underlying concern.

There are a few different types of arrhythmia. Let's break down what they mean:

  • Atrial fibrillation: This means that your heart beats too fast and with an abnormal rhythm.
  • Atrial flutter: This type of arrhythmia also makes your heart beat too fast, but in the atria, which are the upper chambers of your heart.
  • Supraventricular tachycardia: This makes your heart beat too fast, and it usually starts in the atria.
  • Tachybrady syndrome: This type of arrhythmia means you'll have both periods of a very fast heartbeat and a very slow heartbeat.
  • Heart block: This is a slow heartbeat that happens when there's a blockage between your heart's upper and lower chambers.

While one of the main symptoms of an arrhythmia is heart palpitations, they cause other symptoms, too. You might feel dizzy, faint, and short of breath. Heart palpitations can lead to serious complications, so if you have these symptoms, you should seek medical attention.

How to prevent heart palpitations

If you've had heart palpitations before, you can take some steps to reduce your chance of having them again. While there's no way to definitively avoid them - and if you do get them, it's not your fault - maintaining healthy lifestyle habits is a good place to start.

First, let's look at what may have triggered your palpitations in the past. Did they happen after a particularly strenuous workout? On a day when you drank a few extra cups of coffee? Paying attention to your potential palpitation triggers can help you take steps to avoid them in the future.

In general, living a healthy, balanced lifestyle and keeping your stress levels in check will reduce your risk of most health conditions. Keep the following steps in mind, but remember that nobody's perfect, and we're all doing the best we can to live healthy and active lives.

Get regular physical activity

While strenuous exercise is one of the causes of heart palpitations, staying active is an important part of living a healthy life. The general advice is to aim for 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise every week and try to include some muscle-strengthening activities like lifting weights.

Eat a nutritious, balanced diet

The way you eat is personal to you. Try to eat a balanced, well-rounded diet with plenty of fruits, vegetables, lean protein, and healthy fats. Aim to limit sugary snacks, highly processed foods, and saturated fats. It's also a good idea to make sure you're drinking enough water because dehydration can contribute to heart palpitations.

Reduce and manage your stress

Life is busy, and sometimes, it can be hard to keep stress levels in check. But because stress and anxiety can cause palpitations, it's important to do your best to manage them as best you can. You can try meditation, guided breathing exercises, and yoga.

Limit your intake of stimulants

Stimulants can increase your risk of heart palpitations, so it's a good idea to limit them as much as you can. Try to cut back on or avoid caffeine, nicotine, and energy drinks.

Avoid certain medications

You might be surprised to learn that some medications and supplements can actually cause palpitations. Some of these include decongestants, antibiotics, thyroid medications, and herbal supplements. It's a good idea to check with your doctor before taking anything new.

If you've had heart palpitations before, you can take some steps to reduce your chance of having them again.

Treatment and managing heart palpitations

Heart palpitations aren't always a sign of an underlying issue, and you won't always need treatment for them. Often, they'll be a one-off occurrence and won't cause any other symptoms.

That said, if you have recurring heart palpitations, it's a good idea to speak with a doctor. First, they'll ask you questions about your medical history, what your heart palpitations feel like, and if you have a history of heart disease. They can diagnose what may be causing your palpitations with tests like:

  • A physical exam
  • An electrocardiogram (ECG), a test that records your heart to measure its electrical activity in
  • An echocardiogram, an imaging test that gives your consultant a comprehensive picture of your heart's structure
  • A stress test, which shows us how your heart responds to physical activity
  • Blood tests, where your consultant can check your electrolytes, cardiac enzymes, and more

If your consultant thinks you may have a heart condition that's causing palpitations, they'll recommend a course of treatment. Conversely, if they don't, they'll likely encourage you to take the steps discussed above like managing your stress, avoiding stimulants, and exercising regularly.

When to seek a specialist's opinion

Heart palpitations alone aren't always cause for concern, and they don't necessarily mean you need to see a doctor. If you're worried about your heart health or think something more serious might be going on, then it's a good idea to get checked. You should make an appointment if you have:

  • Frequent heart palpitations
  • Chest pain
  • Dizziness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fainting
  • A very fast heartbeat

Get help with Circle Health Group

While heart palpitations are relatively common and don't always require a doctor's visit, it's always good to be cautious - especially when it comes to your heart health. Pay attention to your symptoms, potential triggers, and how you're feeling.

If you're at all concerned about your heart health, it's a good idea to make an appointment with a specialist. They can help you identify the underlying cause of your palpitations or give you lifestyle recommendations to stop them from happening in the future.

Circle Health Group offers personalised treatment options for heart concerns, and you'll be supported by our network of experienced cardiologists.

To learn more about our treatment options, book your appointment online today or call a member of our team directly.


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If you're concerned about symptoms you're experiencing or require further information on this subject, talk to a GP or see an expert consultant at your local Circle Hospital.