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Heart palpitations

  • Definition

    Palpitations are heartbeat sensations that feel like your heart is pounding or racing. You may simply have an unpleasant awareness of your own heartbeat, or may feel skipped or stopped beats. The heart's rhythm may be normal or abnormal. Palpitations can be felt in your chest, throat, or neck.

    See also: Arrhythmia

    Alternative Names

    Heartbeat sensations; Irregular heartbeat; Palpitations; Heart pounding or racing


    Normally the heart beats 60 - 100 times per minute. In people who exercise routinely or take medications that slow the heart, the rate may drop below 55 beats per minute.

    If your heart rate is fast (over 100 beats per minute), this is called tachycardia. A slow heart rate is called bradycardia. An occasional extra heartbeat is known as extrasystole.

    Palpitations are usually not serious. However, it depends on whether or not the sensations represent an abnormal heart rhythm ( arrhythmia). The following conditions make you more likely to have an abnormal heart rhythm:

    • Known heart disease at the time the palpitations begin
    • Significant risk factors for heart disease
    • An abnormal heart valve
    • An electrolyte abnormality in your blood -- for example, a low potassium level

    Common Causes

    Heart palpitations can be caused by:

    • Anemia
    • Anxiety, stress, fear
    • Caffeine
    • Certain medications, including those used to treat thyroid disease, asthma, high blood pressure, or heart problems
    • Cocaine
    • Diet pills
    • Exercise
    • Fever
    • Hyperventilation
    • Low levels of oxygen in your blood
    • Heart valve disease, including mitral valve prolapse
    • Nicotine
    • Overactive thyroid