symptoms

Heart Palpitations and Anxiety Attacks: Should You Be Worried?

Eileen Bailey Health Guide April 24, 2009
  • Many people experience heart palpitations during an anxiety attack. This pounding of your heartbeat can cause you to feel as if you are having a heart attack or as if you are going to die. The good news is that heart palpitations are often not serious and do not signal a health concern.

     

    What are Heart Palpitations?

     

    Heart palpitations have been described in numerous ways. It can be a feeling of your heart pounding, a racing heartbeat. Some people describe feeling as if they have skipped a heartbeat followed by strong heartbeats. Other people may feel their heartbeat becomes irregular, feeling as if they have periods of weak heartbeats and then periods of rapid heartbeats.

     

    Anxiety and Heart Disease

     

    Recent research has shown a correlation between an increased risk of heart disease and anxiety, therefore, if you are experiencing heart palpitations, it is wise to talk with your doctor and determine if there is a physical cause for your heart palpitations. Some physical causes can include arrhythmia, tachycardia, bradycardia or atrial fibrillation. Hyperthyroidism can also cause irregular heart rates. It is important to make sure you are not suffering from one of these underlying causes before dismissing your heart palpitations as a symptom of your anxiety.

     

    If you are experiencing heart palpitations along with additional symptoms, such as dizziness, fainting, chest pain or shortness or breath, you should seek immediate medical attention.

     

    In many cases, however, heart palpitations are not dangerous. Having your doctor complete tests to determine if there is no underlying heart disease can help to alleviate some of the worry when you begin to experience an anxiety attack.

     

    Some Ways to Cope with Heart Palpitations

     

    Developing strategies for coping with heart palpitations, before they occur, can help to minimize the stress associated with them. Sometimes, when you begin to have heart palpitations, worry about having a heart attack increases your anxiety. When you add additional stress to an anxiety attack, you intensify the symptoms of the anxiety attack rather than decreasing symptoms. Accept your heart palpitations and try to change your focus to something else, such as your breathing. As you focus switches, your heartbeat will slowly return to normal.

     

    • Keep a log or diary of your heart palpitations. Write down how long they lasted, what you were doing when they began and what type of strategy you used to help cope. This information can not only help you understand what strategies work and do not work in controlling and managing heart palpitations, but provides you with specific information to share with your doctor.
    • Avoid using certain substances, which can increase heart palpitations. This includes caffeine, alcohol, tobacco and illegal/illicit drugs, such as cocaine or amphetamines.
    • Make sure your doctor knows of all other medications you may be taking to be sure there is no possible drug interactions. This includes over-the-counter medications, herbal supplements and vitamins as well as other prescription medication.
    • Use deep breathing techniques to help calm down. Focusing on your breathing, rather than your racing heart will alleviate the stress and also decrease your heart rate.
    • Accept your heart palpitations as part of anxiety and allow your heart to race, the more you stop worrying about the heart palpitations, the sooner the episode will end.
    • Make sure you receive treatment for your anxiety. Keep your doctor's and therapy appointments, look into cognitive behavioral therapy or group therapy to help with anxiety attacks and take your medication, if you have been prescribed medication.

    Although heart palpitations can feel as if you are experiencing a life-threatening episode, remembering they are not dangerous or harmful can go a long way toward learning to control, manage and live with heart palpitations and anxiety attacks.


  • Sources:

    "Heart Palpitations", Last Reviewed 2006. August, Familydoctor.org editorial staff, FamilyDoctor.org

    "Palpitations: Anxiety or Heart Disease", 2009, Jan 5, Jay Winner, M.D., Psychology Today

    "Depression and Anxiety Can Double Chances of Heart Ailments", 2008, Jan, University of Montreal, ScienceDaily.com