What are heart palpitations?

A heart palpitation is defined as 'a noticeably rapid, strong, or irregular heartbeat due to agitation, exertion or illness'. Other descriptions of the feeling of heart palpitations also refer to skipping heartbeats or the sensation of a 'fluttering heart'.

What causes heart palpitations?

Generally heart palpitations are not serious and they can be brought on by many things, for example emotional extremes such as stress or anxiety, strenuous exercise, and by some substances, such as caffeine (contained on coffee, tea and chocolate), nicotine and alcohol, recreational drugs (eg cocaine) and some medications and supplements. They can even be caused by eating rich meals containing large amounts of sugar or fat. All of these cause adrenaline levels in the body to rise, in turn affecting the heartbeat. Pregnant women and women who are nearing menopause can also be affected by palpitations.

When should I get palpitations checked out by a doctor?

Palpitations may be an indication of more serious underlying problems, so it is always worth getting them checked out by your doctor, particularly if they are accompanied by any of the following... 

  • Chest pain
  • Fainting or blackouts
  • Dizziness
  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath

These may indicate other heart problems such as...

  • Coronary heart disease
  • Heart Failure
  • Primary rhythm disorders
  • Heart valve issues
  • Heart muscle issues
  • Previous heart attack

How are palpitations treated?

If testing indicates that the palpitations are not connected to a more serious underlying heart condition, there are a few things you can do to control palpitations, most of which focus on removing the triggers of the palpitations. Your doctor may recommend...

Doing things to relieve anxiety and stress, both at the moment when you feel the palpitations (by finding a quiet spot to sit down and keeping yourself calm) and ongoing methods, such as relaxation techniques eg yoga, tai chi

Reducing or avoiding things containing stimulants such as alcohol, coffee and cigarettes

Checking if certain medications or supplements are connected with the palpitations and finding alternatives if necessary