Living with Palpitations

Health Writer

Heart palpitations are a common symptom of anxiety. Palpitations are often described as an unusual awareness of the heartbeat or feeling your heart pounding or racing. While palpitations are rarely serious, if you are experiencing these, it is a good idea to get checked by your doctor as sometimes palpitations can signal arrhythmia, tachycardia, bradycardia or atrial fibrillation.

Palpitations can be a frightening experience. You may worry that you are having a heart attack or think that you are going to die. You may feel that you have just exercised and knowing you haven't, you worry that there is something wrong. Palpitations can occur at any time. You may feel them when walking around, sitting still or when you are at rest. The stress you feel because of the unusual feeling of your heart pounding can make it more difficult to calm the palpitations. It may seem that the more you pay attention to your beating heart, the harder it pounds. Health Central expert Jerry Kennard indicates that almost "50 percent of referrals to cardiac specialists from complaints of palpitations" even though most cases are due to anxiety.

Tips for Coping with Palpitations

There are a number of ways you can help to manage your palpitations:

  • Talk with your doctor to make sure there are no underlying medical causes. Knowing there is nothing wrong may help you relax when you do get palpitations. Besides possible heart conditions, anemia, low blood pressure, dehydration or an overactive thyroid condition may cause palpitations. Hormonal changes in women, during menstruation, pregnancy and perimenopause, can also cause palpitations.

  • Understand what additional symptoms may signal a heart condition and require medical care. For example, if you have dizziness, fainting, chest pain or shortness of breath you should immediately contact your doctor or visit an emergency room.

  • Check with your doctor or pharmacist if you are taking any medications, even over-the-counter medications, as some may cause or contribute to your palpitations, for example, diet pills, asthma inhalers, thyroid medications, decongestants and some herbal and dietary supplements may cause palpitations.

  • Try to reduce your stress levels. Emotional stress is one of the most common causes of heart palpitations. When you begin to feel palpitations, take steps to relax. Methods such as deep breathing can help you relax. Other stress relief strategies, such as meditation, guided imagery or yoga can help reduce your overall feeling of anxiety when practiced on a daily basis.

  • Avoid caffeine, alcohol and nicotine, which both can be triggers for palpitations.

  • Add exercise to your daily routine. Even 15 to 20 minutes of exercise each day has been found to reduce anxiety levels all day.

  • Keep a record of your palpitations. Not only will this help you find triggers, if there is a medical problem, this information will help your doctor better understand exactly what is going on and better treat your condition.

  • Seek treatment for anxiety. As you learn to manage your anxiety and stress levels, your palpitations should decrease or go away.

Once you know that there are no underlying medical conditions that are causing palpitations, you may want to ignore your palpitations as much as possible. Instead of focusing on the feeling of your heart beat, think of something else. Keeping your mind off the palpitations can help them go away on their own.

If you are unable to control palpitations and they are causing you additional stress or interfering with your ability to complete daily tasks, talk with your doctor. There are medications available to help reduce heart palpitations.


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"Heart Palpitations: Frequently Asked Questions," Revised 2003, Dec, Michael G. Kienzle, M.D., Uniersity of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics: