Heart all a-flutter? It’s probably nothing to do with romance.

February 3, 2015 Providence Health Team

Ahh, Valentine’s Day is near. Many equate it with chocolate, flowers and the pangs of love. Some lovebirds even testify their heart “skips a beat” when in the throes of romance. 

Do feelings of love cause your heart to actually palpitate? Hardly likely, say cardiologists. If you have experienced such a sensation while dancing in the light of love, it’s probably a nervous reaction – not your heart skipping a beat. 

What do palpitations feel like? 

Some people do report having a sensation in which they feel their heart has started to race, or even feel as if it’s going to pound out of their chest. This experience is quite real. They’re likely suffering heart palpitations. This feeling often is described as a heart flutter, which is a pounding, throbbing or even a flip-flopping sensation. 

But as suddenly as they appear, palpitations can disappear just as quickly. 

What causes heart palpitations? 

Providence cardiologist Dr. Gerrie Gardner says heart palpitations are quite common. “That feeling of your heart skipping a beat can be caused by lots of things. Overexertion while exercising, stress at home or at work, and anxiety or panic attacks often cause heart palpitations,” Dr. Gardner says. 

Dr. Gardner says if you’re dehydrated, have low blood sugar or potassium levels, you could be susceptible to palpitations. Heavy smokers ingesting high levels of nicotine, heavy drinkers and caffeine addicts also are at risk. 

It’s best to get checked out 

Your Providence primary care provider can determine if your heart palpitation is a harmless reaction to stress or other issues. At the same time, your provider will work to rule out underlying medical reasons. It’s important to share information that could pinpoint the cause – including your diet history, medication use or other physical or emotional stresses you’ve recently faced. 

If your exam reveals abnormalities such as a heart murmur or problems with one of your heart valves, an electrocardiogram may be ordered to isolate the issue. An exercise stress test may be conducted should your palpitations include chest pain. 

What can you do? 

It’s more likely your Providence primary care provider will advise you to cut back on any suspected causes: reduce or eliminate caffeine, smoking or alcohol. Over-the-counter medications, especially decongestants containing pseudoephedrine or phenylephrine, often are the culprits. 

You may be advised to control your stress levels. Breathing exercises, meditation, yoga or other relaxation techniques can lower the tension you feel. 

Your Providence primary care provider is happy to answer your questions about “affairs of the heart.” If your heart rhythm has seemed out of sorts, put in a call to your primary care provider. Ask plenty of questions and share your full medical story.

February is American Heart Month

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