Know when and how feelings of a rapid, fluttering or pounding heartbeat are treated.
Heart palpitations (pal-pih-TAY-shuns) are feelings of having a fast-beating, fluttering or pounding heart. Stress, exercise, medication or, rarely, a medical condition can trigger them.
Although heart palpitations can be worrisome, they're usually harmless. Rarely, heart palpitations can be a symptom of a more serious heart condition, such as an irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia), that might require treatment.
Heart palpitations can feel like the heart is:
Heart palpitations may be felt in the throat or neck as well as the chest. They can occur during activity or at rest.
Palpitations that are infrequent and last only a few seconds usually don't need to be evaluated. If you have a history of heart disease and have palpitations that occur frequently or worsen, talk to your health care provider. You may need heart-monitoring tests to see if the palpitations are caused by a more serious heart problem.
Seek emergency medical attention if heart palpitations occur with:
Often the cause of heart palpitations can't be found. Common causes include:
Occasionally heart palpitations can be a sign of a serious problem, such as an irregular heart rhythm (arrhythmia).
Arrhythmias might cause a very fast heartbeat (tachycardia), an unusually slow heartbeat (bradycardia), a heartbeat that varies from a typical heart rhythm or a combination of the three.
Risk factors for heart palpitations include:
For palpitations caused by a heart condition, possible complications may include:
To diagnose palpitations, a health care provider will do a physical exam and listen to your heart using a stethoscope. The exam may include looking for signs of medical conditions that can cause heart palpitations, such as a swollen thyroid gland. You will likely be asked questions about your medical history.
If your doctor thinks that palpitations are caused by an irregular heartbeat or other heart condition, tests might include:
Unless the palpitations are caused by a heart condition, heart palpitations rarely require treatment. Instead, a health care provider might recommend taking steps to avoid the triggers that cause palpitations.
If palpitations are caused by a heart condition, such as an irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia), treatment will focus on correcting the condition.
The most appropriate way to treat palpitations at home is to avoid the triggers that cause the symptoms.
If you have heart palpitations with severe shortness of breath, chest pain or fainting, seek emergency medical attention.
If your palpitations are brief and there are no other worrisome signs or symptoms, make an appointment to see your health care provider. A health care provider can help determine if palpitations are harmless or a symptom of a more serious heart condition. You may be referred to a doctor who specializes in heart diseases (cardiologist).
Here's some information to help you get ready for your appointment:
When you make the appointment, ask if there's anything you need to do in advance, such as restrict your diet.
Make a list of:
Take a family member or friend along, if possible, to help you remember the information you're given.
For heart palpitations, basic questions to ask your health care provider include:
Don't hesitate to ask other questions.
Your health care provider is likely to ask you questions, such as:
Before your appointment, you can try to improve your symptoms by avoiding stress or activities that might cause palpitations. Some common triggers include: