What to do when your heart skips a beat

Heart all a-flutter? See what causes heart palpitations and when it’s important to see your doctor.

  • Most of the time, heart palpitations are benign or caused by something other than a heart condition.
  • If you feel consistent palpitations, dizziness, chest pain or shortness of breath, you should see your doctor as soon as possible.

[4 MIN READ]

Feeling your heart skip a beat can be unnerving. The good news is that most of the time, these brief flutters are not a sign of a life-threatening condition.

When your heart flutters, races or skips a beat, it’s known as a heart palpitation. In many cases, one or two skips are not a problem. However, if you have consistent palpitations or experience fainting, dizziness, chest pain or shortness of breath, you should see your doctor as soon as possible.

Read on to learn more about the different causes of heart palpitations and when they may be signs of a more severe problem.

What causes heart palpitations?

Palpitations are not always caused by a heart problem or condition. In fact, palpitations can be triggered by physical activity, certain foods, medicines or your emotions.

Some common triggers can include:

  • Having too much caffeine, alcohol or tobacco
  • Eating too much chocolate
  • Stress or anxiety
  • Fatigue
  • Overexertion
  • Fever
  • Low potassium
  • Low blood sugar
  • Dehydration
  • An overactive thyroid gland
  • Low blood pressure
  • Hormone changes caused by pregnancy, menstruation or menopause
  • Certain medicines, such as thyroid treatments, asthma medication or cold medicine

If the palpitation is caused by something in your heart, it could be a premature contraction or an arrhythmia. The chart below outlines symptoms you may be feeling and when to see a doctor.

Diagnosing heart palpitations

When you meet with your doctor about heart palpitations, be sure to explain how long they have been going on, what they feel like and any other symptoms you have. Your doctor will likely have you:

  • Undergo blood tests to check whether the palpitations are caused by something other than the heart, such as thyroid problems.
  • Do an electrocardiogram (EKG or ECG), which checks the electrical signals in your heart to make sure it is functioning correctly.
  • Wear a Holter monitor for a few days to track your heart rhythm while you’re at home following a normal routine.

Treating heart palpitations

Depending on your diagnosis, your doctor may first have you make some lifestyle changes to see if they reduce the palpitations. This may include quitting smoking, avoiding caffeine and alcohol or making adjustments to your diet.

In some cases, your doctor may prescribe certain medicines to treat the arrhythmia, such as beta-blockers or calcium channel blockers. If the arrhythmia is severe, your doctor may recommend catheter ablation treatment, which uses heat to destroy the area of the heart that is causing the irregular heartbeat. 

Feeling too many heart flutters? See a doctor

Experiencing a heart flutter after too much coffee or a stressful event isn’t unusual. However, if you’re experiencing a consistently rapid heart rate or frequent palpitations over a period of days, you should see a doctor.

Find a doctor

Providence provides renowned cardiovascular care with award-winning heart and vascular specialists. You can find a Providence cardiologist using our provider directory. Or, you can search for a primary care doctor in your area.

Alaska

California

Montana

Oregon

Washington

Heart all a-flutter? Learn the different causes of heart palpitations and when you should see a doctor. #heart #heartmonth #hearthealth @psjh

 

Relevant regional resources

Alaska:

Providence Heart & Vascular Center Alaska

California:

St. Joseph Sonoma

St. Joseph Queen of the Valley

St. Joseph Humboldt

Providence Heart & Vascular Care Southern California

Montana:

Providence Heart & Vascular Care Montana

Oregon:

Providence Heart & Vascular Institute Oregon

Texas:

Providence Covenant Health Medical Group

 

Related resources

Is anxiety taking a toll on your heart?

Common causes of chest pain

You’ve been diagnosed with AFib: Now what?

This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.

About the Author

The Providence Heart & Vascular Team is committed to bringing you many years of expertise and experience to help you understand how to prevent, treat and recover from cardiovascular diseases and conditions. From tips to eating better to exercise and everything in between, our clinical experts know how to help you help your heart.

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