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What are palpitations?

Palpitations are fast, forceful heartbeats in an irregular rhythm. You may feel like your heart races, jumps, throbs, or flutters. You may feel extra beats, no beats for a short time, or skipped beats. Palpitations may be frightening, but are usually not a serious problem. Everyone has skipped heartbeats from time to time. Palpitations can be caused by an electrolyte (mineral) imbalance, heart disease, or heart damage.

What increases my risk for palpitations?

  • Anxiety, stress, or lack of sleep

  • Exercise

  • Medicines, such as diet pills, herbal supplements, and cold or allergy remedies

  • Caffeine or nicotine

  • Pregnancy

  • Medical conditions, such has dehydration, low blood sugar level, or anemia

How are palpitations diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will listen to your heart with a stethoscope and ask about your symptoms. You may also need any of the following:

  • Blood and urine tests will show the levels of electrolytes in your body and your heart function.

  • An EKG test records your heart rhythm and how fast your heart beats. It is used to check for heart damage. You may also need to wear a Holter monitor while you do your usual activities. A Holter monitor is a portable EKG.

  • An x-ray may show the function of your heart and lungs.

  • An echocardiogram is a type of ultrasound. Sound waves are used to show the structure and function of your heart.

  • An exercise stress test helps healthcare providers see the changes that take place in your heart during exercise. It checks for blockages in the arteries. Ask your healthcare provider for more information about a stress test.

How are palpitations treated?

You do not usually need treatment unless you have a separate heart condition. You may be given medicine to strengthen or regulate your heartbeat.

How can I help prevent more palpitations?

  • Eat a variety of healthy foods. Healthy foods include fruits, vegetables, whole-grain breads, low-fat dairy products, beans, lean meats, and fish. Ask if you need to be on a special diet.

  • Drink liquids as directed. Ask your healthcare provider how much liquid to drink each day and which liquids are best for you.

  • Do not smoke. If you smoke, it is never too late to quit. Smoking may worsen heart problems. Ask your healthcare provider for information if you need help quitting.

  • Exercise as directed. Ask your healthcare provider about the best exercise plan for you.

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

  • Your palpitations happen more often or get more intense.

  • You have new or worsening swelling in your feet or ankles.

  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

When should I seek immediate care or call 911?

  • You have any of the following signs of a heart attack:

    • Squeezing, pressure, or pain in your chest that lasts longer than 5 minutes or returns

    • Discomfort or pain in your back, neck, jaw, stomach, or arm

    • Trouble breathing

    • Nausea or vomiting

    • Lightheadedness or a sudden cold sweat, especially with chest pain or trouble breathing

  • You have weakness or numbness in your arm, leg, or face (may be on only one side of your body).

  • You are confused and have trouble speaking.

  • You have a severe headache.

  • You cannot see out of one or both of your eyes.

  • You feel too dizzy to stand.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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