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. In rare cases, they 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 your heart is:
You might feel heart palpitations in your throat or neck as well as your chest. They can occur when you're active 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 doctor. He or she might suggest heart-monitoring tests to see if your palpitations are caused by a more serious heart problem.
Seek emergency medical attention if heart palpitations are accompanied by:
Often the cause of your heart palpitations can't be found. Common causes include:
Occasionally heart palpitations can be a sign of a serious problem, such as an overactive thyroid gland (hyperthyroidism) or an abnormal heart rhythm (arrhythmia).
Heart rhythm changes (arrhythmias) might cause a very fast heart rate (tachycardia), an unusually slow heart rate (bradycardia), a normal heart rate that varies from the usual heart rhythm or combination of the three.
You might be at risk of developing palpitations if you:
Unless a heart condition is causing your heart palpitations, there's little risk of complications. For palpitations caused by a heart condition, possible complications include:
Your doctor will listen to your heart using a stethoscope and ask questions about your medical history. He or she will also likely look for signs of medical conditions that can cause heart palpitations, such as a swollen thyroid gland.
If your doctor suspects that your palpitations are caused by an arrhythmia or other heart condition, tests might include:
Electrocardiogram (ECG). In this noninvasive test, a technician places leads on your chest that record the electrical signals that make your heart beat.
An ECG can help your doctor detect problems in your heartbeat and heart structure that could cause palpitations. The test will be done either while you rest or during exercise (stress electrocardiogram).
Unless your doctor finds that you have a heart condition, heart palpitations seldom require treatment. Instead, your doctor might recommend ways for you to avoid the triggers that cause your palpitations.
If your palpitations are caused by a condition, such as an arrhythmia, treatment will focus on correcting the condition.
The most appropriate way to treat palpitations at home is to avoid the triggers that cause your 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 doctor. Your doctor can help you find out if your palpitations are harmless or a symptom of a more serious heart condition.
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 or fast.
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 doctor include:
Don't hesitate to ask other questions.
Your doctor is likely to ask you questions, such as:
Before your appointment, you can try to improve your symptoms by avoiding activities or stresses that might cause your palpitations. Some common triggers include: