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Heart palpitations are experienced by both men and women. Palpitations are common and generally caused by anxiety, stress and perimenopause but they can indicate a serious medical problem such as underlying heart disease or an abnormal heart structure.

What Heart Palpitations Feel Like

Heart palpitations are described by those who experience them in several different ways such as:

  • There is a pounding or fluttering in the chest.
  • The heart is doing a flip-flop.
  • The heart is skipping or missing a beat.
  • The heart is racing.
  • There is an extra heartbeat.
  • The heart is beating in the neck.

Triggers of Heart Palpitations

Though heart palpitations do not always indicate a severe health problem they can be uncomfortable and, over time, can pose some threats to your health. For this reason it is important to recognize some of the triggers of heart palpitations:

  • Exercise,
  • Stress, anxiety, or fear,
  • Smoking,
  • Alcohol,
  • Too much caffeine from coffee, colas, or tea,
  • Anemia,
  • Heart problems, such as mitral valve prolapse,
  • Thyroid problems,
  • Medicines, such as diet pills and decongestants, or overdoses of such medicines as theophylline ,and antidepressants, and diuretics (such as Lasix or hydrochlorothiazide),
  • Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) or perimenopause,
  • Lack of certain vitamins or minerals, or
  • Low blood sugar, or an insulin reaction in diabetics.

Some of these triggers can be minimized by avoiding or reducing the intensity and/or frequency of certain activities or circumstances. For those situations that are beyond your control, such as PMS, it is important to keep track of your symptoms to make sure that they are just part of your normal functioning. Even in these ‘normal’ scenarios it is important to inform your doctor of your palpitations.

Talk to Your Doctor

When you report your palpitations to your healthcare provider he or she may want to examine you to try to determine the cause of your symptoms. He or she may find that there is no health problem associated with your palpitations but even then it will be important and helpful in the future for this information to be on your medical records.

Common Recommendations

If your healthcare provider does think that you should receive treatment for you palpitations he or she may recommend one or all of the following:

  • Drink less coffee or alcohol, or none at all.
  • Try to reduce the stress in your life.
  • Take certain medications, such as beta blockers.

Get Medical Attention Right Away If…

There are some instances in which it is imperative that you seek medical attention right away such as:

  • Fainting or passing out.
  • You also have sweating, shortness of breath, lightheadedness, nausea, vomiting, or pain in teh chest, arm, back, or jaw.
  • You have palpitations that last a few hours.
  • They occur often.

These symptoms may indicate that you are having a more serious health problem.

Palpitations and Menopause

It is not uncommon for women who are about to enter or are in the midst of menopause to report heart palpitations. Doctors are not yet sure why palpitations sometimes occur with menopause, but one theory is that varying hormone levels stimulate the heart differently causing occasional unusual rhythms. Talk with your healthcare provider about these and other symptoms of menopause.

For more information:

Go to the Women’s Health health topic.