Heart palpitations (pal-pih-TAY-shuns) are the feelings of having rapid, fluttering or pounding heart. Heart palpitations can be triggered by stress, exercise, medication or, rarely, a medical condition.
Although heart palpitations can be worrisome, they’re usually harmless. In rare cases, heart palpitations can be a symptom of a more serious heart condition, such as an irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia), that may require treatment.
Often the cause of your heart palpitations can’t be found. Common causes of heart palpitations include:
- Strong emotional responses, such as stress or anxiety
- Strenuous exercise
- Hormone changes associated with menstruation, pregnancy or menopause
- Taking cold and cough medications that contain pseudoephedrine, a stimulant
- Taking some asthma inhaler medications that contain stimulants
Occasionally heart palpitations can be a sign of a serious problem, such as an overactive thyroid gland (hyperthyroidism) or an abnormal heart rhythm (arrhythmia). Arrhythmias may include very fast heart rates (tachycardia), unusually slow heart rates (bradycardia) or an irregular heart rhythm.
Heart palpitations can feel like your heart is:
- Skipping beats
- Beating too fast
- Pumping harder than usual
You may feel heart palpitations in your throat or neck, as well as your chest. Heart palpitations can occur whether you’re active or at rest, and whether you’re standing, seated or lying down.
When to see a doctor
Palpitations that are infrequent and last only a few seconds usually don’t require evaluation. If you have a history of heart disease and have frequent palpitations or have palpitations that worsen, talk to your doctor. He or she may 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:
- Chest discomfort or pain
- Severe shortness of breath
- Severe dizziness