What are the causes of heart flutters?

Updated November 21, 2016

Heart flutters, also known as heart palpitations, feel like a fluttering in the chest or an unusually fast heart rate. Often they can be attributed to stress, exercise or unusual activities. Although heart flutters may be of concern and feel like they are extremely serious, they usually are a minor health event. Individuals who feel heart flutters may have an underlying minor health issue, such as a mitral valve prolapse or a heart murmur that is active at the moment of the palpitation.


According to both the Mayo Clinic and Dr. David Dugdale, III, of MedlinePlus, strenuous exercise can trigger heart flutter episodes. In most cases, this is not cause for concern and is the result of unusually heavy heart activity. If heart flutters are experienced as a result of exercise, exercising less actively may result in a reduction of the sensation of fluttering or fast heart rate.

Mitral Valve Prolapse

Dr. Dugdale III states that one of the potential causes for heart flutters is the presence of a mitral valve prolapse. This is a mild heart condition in which the flaps of a heart valve do not completely close and instead may allow a slight flow of excess blood between the atrium (upper chamber) and heart ventricles (lower chamber). Although the sensation can be alarming and unnerving, generally mitral valve prolapse is a minor cardiac event.


Certain medications may also cause heart flutters. According to Dr. Dugdale III, prescribed medications such as beta blockers, and asthma and thyroid medications may lead to palpitations. Additionally, medications that are prescribed to treat an irregular heart beat or arrhythmia can be a contributing factor in experiencing heart flutters. Medications that contain stimulants, such as those prescribed for ADD/ADHD can also be a contributing factor. Cold and cough medications can cause also heart palpitations and fluttering.

Hormone Changes

According to the Mayo Clinic, women may experience a sensation of heart palpitations as they go through hormonal changes across the lifespan. These hormonal changes can include pregnancy, monthly menstrual cycle changes and those that occur during pre-menopause and menopause. As oestrogen and progesterone levels change and flow, a woman may feel a variety of symptoms, including heart palpitations. Heart palpitations can accompany hot flushes, variations in mood and physical changes like bloating and weight gain.

Emotional Stress

One of the contributing causes of heart palpitations can be exposure to stressful situations or unexpected emotional distress. According to the Mayo Clinic, emotional distress can be a strong contributor and should be avoided if palpitations have been experienced in the past. In many cases, simply avoiding the situation or circumstances that surrounded the cardiac event will eliminate them entirely. If heart palpitations have been a problem in the past, using stress management techniques like slow breathing, counting and meditating can be helpful to ease the discomfort that palpitations may bring.

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