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Heart palpitations – causes, symptoms and other risk factors

When someone has heart palpitations, then he or she has feelings of having pounding, fluttering or rapid heart. Heart palpitations can be triggered by a medication, exercise or stress or in rare cases it can be triggered by a medical condition. This condition can be worrisome but the heart palpitations are usually harmless. There are rare cases when heart palpitations can be a symptom of a more serious heart condition such as arrhythmia (an irregular heartbeat) and this may require treatment [1].

Heart palpitations symptoms

Heart palpitations can feel like your heart is:

  • Pumping harder than usual
  • Beating too fast
  • Fluttering
  • Skipping beats

Also you can feel heart palpitations in your neck or throat, as well as in your chest. They can happen whether you are at rest or active and whether you are lying down, standing or you are seated.

Causes: There are many cases when the cause of heart palpitation cannot be found. Here are the most common causes of heart palpitations:

  • Taking some asthma inhaler medications that contain stimulants [2]
  • Taking cold and cough medications that contain pseudoephedrine, a stimulant [3]
  • Hormone changes associated with menstruation, pregnancy or menopause [4]
  • Fever [5]
  • Nicotine [5]
  • Caffeine [5]
  • Strenuous exercise [6]
  • Strong emotional responses, such as stress or anxiety [7]

Heart palpitations

Heart palpitations causes

There are rare cases when heart palpitations can be a sign of a serious problem, such as arrhythmia (an abnormal heart rhythm) or thyroid gland (hyperthyroidism). Arrhythmias can include an irregular heart rhythm, unusually slow heart rates (bradycardia) or very fast heart rates (tachycardia). [1] Those heart palpitations which are infrequent and which last a few seconds, usually do not need evaluation. If you have palpitations that worsen, have frequent palpitations or you have a history of heart disease, then you should talk with your doctor as soon as possible. If your heart palpitations are accompanied by severe dizziness, severe shortness of breath, fainting and chest discomfort or pain, then you should seek emergency medical attention.

Risk factors: There are some factors which can increase your risk of heart palpitations such as

  • Have other heart problems, such as arrhythmia, heart defect or previous heart attack [1]
  • Have an overactive thyroid gland (hyperthyroidism) [8]
  • Take medicines that contain stimulants, such as some cold or asthma medications [2,3]
  • Are pregnant
  • Have an anxiety disorder or regularly experience panic attacks [7]
  • Are highly stressed [7]

Lifestyle triggers: There are some lifestyle habits which can increase your risk of heart palpitations such as

  • Being overweight
  • Drinking too much alcohol [5]
  • Using illegal or recreational drugs
  • Drinking large amounts of caffeine [5]
  • Smoking  [9]
  • Feeling nervous, anxious or excited
  • Panic attacks

Complications: If the heart condition is a reason for your heart palpitations, then there can be complications while if you have other cause for your heart palpitations, then there is a little risk of complications. When heart palpitations are causes by a heart condition, then here are some possible complications:

  • Heart failure: This condition can happen if your heart is pumping ineffectively for a prolonged period that is caused by an arrhythmia, such as atrial fibrillation. There are some cases when controlling the rate of an arrhythmia which is cause for your heart failure can improve the function of your heart. [5]
  • Stroke: When your heart palpitations that are caused by atrial fibrillation (this is a condition in which the upper chambers of the heart quiver instead of beating properly) and with this condition the blood can pool and it can cause clots to form. If the clot breaks loose, then it can block a brain artery which is causing a stroke. [5]
  • Cardiac arrest: There are rare cases when this condition can be caused by life – threatening arrhythmias and they can cause your heart to stop beating effectively.
  • Fainting: If you have noticed that your heart beats rapidly, then your blood pressure can drop which is causing you to faint. This is more likely to happen if you have a heart problem, such as certain valve problems or congenital heart disease.


[1] Clementy N, Fourquet A, Clémentine A, et al. Benefits of an early management of palpitations. Medicine. 2018;97(28):e11466.

[2] American Heart Association News. Persistent asthma linked to increased risk for heart rhythm disorder. 2020. Retrieved from

[3] American Heart Association News. Taking medicine for a cold? Be mindful of your heart. 2019. Retrieved from

[4] Rosano GM, Rillo M, Leonardo F, et al. Palpitations: what is the mechanism, and when should we treat them? International Journal of Fertility and Women’s Medicine. 1997;42(2):94-100.

[5] Raviele A, Giada F, Bergfeldt L, et al. Management of patients with palpitations: a position paper from the European Heart Rhythm Association. EP Europace. 2011;13(7):920-34.

[6] Oh DJ, Hong HO, Lee BA. The effects of strenuous exercises on resting heart rate, blood pressure, and maximal oxygen uptake. Journal of Exercise Rehabilitation. 2016;12(1):42–6.

[7] Buckley U, Shivkumar K. Stress-induced cardiac arrhythmias: The heart–brain interaction. Trends in Cardiovascular Medicine. 2016;26(1):78–80.

[8] Ertek S, Cicero AF. Hyperthyroidism and cardiovascular complications: a narrative review on the basis of pathophysiology. Archives of Medical Science. 2013;9(5):944–52.

[9] European Society of Cardiology. The more you smoke, the greater your risk of a heart rhythm disorder. Science Daily. 2018. Retrieved from

Merlin Joy
Merlin Joy
Holding a doctorate degree, Dr. Merlin Joy AKA Sinatra developed passion for home remedies from her mother, grand father and grandmother. Sinatra loves to read books and hiking. You can contact her through [email protected]


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