Heart palpitations are the sensation of a racing or pounding heart, irregular heartbeats, fluttering heartbeats or skipped heartbeats. These sensations usually occur in the chest, neck and throat and may cause feelings of unease and lightheadedness. Occasional heart palpitations are fairly common, but when they occur frequently or are accompanied by arrhythmias (abnormal heart rhythms), it could indicate a serious problem. Heart palpitations develop due to a number of factors.
Serious Medical Conditions
Heart palpitations can be a side effect of serious underlying medical conditions, such as hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid gland) and heart arrhythmias (abnormal heart rhythms). Hyperthyroidism occurs when the body produces too much thyroid hormone, affecting metabolism and causing rapid or forceful heartbeats. Arrhythmia is a heart rate disorder that can result in bradycardia (unusually slow heart rate) and tachycardia (unusually fast heart rate). Medical treatment is necessary for both of these conditions.
Perimenopause and Menopause
Women in perimenopause and menopause may occasionally experience heart palpitations as a side effect. One reason for these palpitations may be oestrogen dominance combined with progesterone deficiency, which results in an imbalance of hormones caused by the body's attempt to stimulate ovulation. Sometimes the palpitations occur in conjunction with other menopausal symptoms, but often they happen outside of any other symptom and with no warning.
Stimulants, both lawful and illicit, are known to cause heart palpitations in some people. Examples of lawful stimulants include excessive caffeine (coffee, tea, soda) or alcoholic beverage consumption, certain antidepressants, asthma medications, decongestants and smoking tobacco. Illicit stimulants such as cocaine, ecstasy, LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide), PCP (phencyclidine hydrochloride) and marijuana may also cause heart palpitations.
Another leading cause of heart palpitations is any psychological, physical or emotional condition that may create a strong impact on the patient's physiology. Examples of common (non-disorder) factors include anxiety or neurosis, fear, memories of past traumatic events, common emotional distress and electrolyte disturbances. Other less common conditions that may contribute to palpitations include anaemia, high fever, common stress, excessive exercise and overall poor physical health.
A number of other disorders carry a risk for heart palpitations. The most common of these are panic disorder, generalised anxiety disorder, hypoglycaemia and sexual aversion disorder. Some heart disorders, such as heart valve disease, rheumatic carditis, sick sinus syndrome and mitral valve prolapse, may also cause heart palpitations as a side effect. Rarely, phaeochromocytoma (chromaffin tumours of the adrenal gland) have been known to cause palpitations.