Seemingly out of nowhere, it feels like your heart is skipping beats. Or, as the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute further describes, it’s “fluttering, pounding, or beating too hard or too fast.” You’re not sure what to think and it freaks you out.
You don’t know it, but you’re experiencing heart palpitations.
The good news? “Most true heart palpitations are benign,” says Dr. Stephen Winters, a cardiac electrophysiologist and director of the cardiac rhythm management program at Morristown Medical Center in New Jersey.
Commonly, heart palpitations seem to arise without warning and often, the cause for the fleeting cardiac irregularity is unknown.
When to Seek Medical Attention for Heart Palpitations
Although generally not a cause for concern in and of themselves, sometimes heart palpitations result from a more significant medical problem.
People with existing heart disease including those who’ve had a previous heart attack as well as any diseases of the heart muscle, generally referred to as cardiomyopathy, should also heed palpitations, which can signal an underlying arrhythmia.
Monitoring Heart Rhythm
Where clinicians do have concerns that palpitations may result from underlying heart rhythm problems, there are a number of ways this can be checked, including an electrocardiogram, or EKG, and monitors used to record the heart rhythm over a period of 24 hours, multiple days or longer.
Even with all the technological advances, though, what hasn’t changed, experts say, is the critical importance of seeing a health provider promptly when concerns of any nature related to the heart arise, even if the significance of palpitations or accompanying symptoms aren’t clear.
Besides treating an underlying medical condition – where that’s the cause – or discussing with your doctor medications that may contribute, there are some things that can be done at home to prevent heart palpitations. According to the National Institutes of Health and heart rhythm experts, individuals can:
- Moderate caffeine consumption.
- Address and work to manage stress and anxiety.
- Incorporate relaxation or breathing exercises into your day.
- Practice yoga, meditation or tai chi.
- Exercise regularly.
- Don’t smoke – or quit if you do.
- Consume alcohol in moderation.
- Get adequate sleep.
Consuming lots of caffeine, including downing energy drinks, drinking alcohol in excess and a lack of sleep, for example – “all these factors can actually have an influence,” Zoghbi says. While in some cases, more medical investigation may be needed to get at the cause of heart palpitations, experts say taking steps to address these kinds of factors can often mitigate palpitations without the need for treatment.