Unless you’re in love, a murmuring, fluttering or pounding heart is not a good thing.
An irregular or racing heartbeat may be a signal of poor health or impending disease.
A rapid pulse and abnormal or irregular heartbeat is called a heart palpitation, brought on by strenuous physical exertion, emotion, disease or some other cause. Another name for this condition is a heart flutter.
People who have experience heart palpitations describe it as a quiver, throb tremble inside their left chest cavity where the body’s main vascular organ resides beneath the protective rib cage. Sometimes the heart skips a beat or even several.
This can be, literally, arresting. When your heart stops, you stop.
The good news is that most heart palpitations are transient – they come and go quickly, and happen rarely and for a good reason that is easy to identify and, in some cases, remedy.
Anyone who exercises knows that prolonged periods of increased physical activity make the heartbeat faster, raising the pulse rate from its normal resting state of about 80 beats per minutes (bpm) to 120-180 bpm. A cool-down period helps the cardiovascular system adapt to processing higher levels of oxygen, which is what we want to happen.
But workout newbies and regulars returning from a break may experience pulsation that is a bit too fast with a pounding or fluttering heart. If that happens, slow down the pace, decrease the weight, and take it easier until you restore your stamina.
Illnesses with fever can speed up the pulse rate (pulsation) because the body is consuming energy at a stepped-up pace. Usually, there is no cause for undue concern unless body temperature rises above 100.4 F.
Chemical stimulants, whether natural or artificial, have the effect of raising the heart rate. Caffeine, the active ingredient in coffee, is the most popular stimulant used worldwide to get up and go in the morning. It’s also found in chocolate and many soft drinks and bottled waters. People who know they have a problem heart are well-advised to avoid using stimulants or least limit their consumption.
Another chemical stimulant that bears its own mention is nicotine, the highly addictive super-carcinogen present in tobacco products such as cigarettes. This drug quickly elevates your heart rate and blood pressure. Quitting smoking is reputedly about as hard as breaking a heroin habit – but the health benefits are enormous, even if it takes a while for them to take effect.
If heart palpitations from nicotine withdrawal don’t stop by three to four weeks after quitting using tobacco products, seek professional help. Note that nicotine substitutes and patches can also elevate pulse and blood pressure.
Likewise, certain medications – both prescription and over-the-counter – list heart palpitations as a known side effect. This list includes:
- Antifungal medicines
- Antipsychotic drugs
- Asthma inhalers
- Cough and cold medicines
- Diet pills
- High blood pressure medicines
- Thyroid pills
Never stop taking your prescription meds or change your dosage without consulting with your healthcare professional.
An overactive thyroid gland secretes metabolic hormones at abnormally high rates. Tachycardia (a resting heart rate that is too high) is a common symptom of Grave’s Disease and other forms of hyperthyroidism. Taking too much thyroid-boosting hormone to treat hypothyroidism (an under-performing thyroid gland) can make your heart gallop.
A woman’s menstrual cycle and reproductive system have everything to do with hormones. Elevated heart rates have been reported by pregnant women and those close to or going through menopause (when the menstrual cycle stops). Medical experts say these female heart irregularities are normal and are normally temporary. Pregnant women may have palpitations due to anemia, a low red blood cell count.
Low blood sugar can rob your energy, give you the shakes, and sour your mood. A drop in blood sugar (glucose) triggers the body to release stress-coping hormones, such as heart-accelerating adrenaline, to prepare for an emergency food shortage. Keeping to a regular, well-balanced diet helps ensure a healthy glucose (blood sugar) level. Avoid skipping meals, fasting, and binging.
Patients diagnosed with a heart rhythm problem are very likely to experience heart palpitations.
Drinking too much alcohol can speed up your heart rate, too. Dubbed “holiday heart syndrome” because it strikes during time off from being responsible, the condition normally doesn’t last long. Individual sensitivities to alcohol vary so pay attention to your body. Pedal back on the tequila shots if your heart starts pounding in your chest.
Intense emotions release hormones that increase your heartbeat. Stress can lead to anxiety which can be triggered to manifest as a panic attack that could last several minutes. Symptoms of this condition include:
- Racing heart
- Difficulty breathing
- Chest pain
Sometimes, a panic attack feels like a heart attack. When in doubt, call 911 for medical assistance without delay.