Heart palpitations are sensations of a fast-beating, fluttering or pounding heart. Heart palpitations can be scary, particularly if they happen during the night when a person is lying down to sleep. When they occur, a person may feel a pulsing sensation in their neck, chest, or throat. Although heart palpitations are not usually a cause for concern, they can sometimes be a sign of an underlying condition.
People with heart palpitations typically experience one or more of the following sensations: a rapid heartbeat, fluttering heart, or skipping beats. The palpitations can start at any time of the day, including at night, when a person is resting. They can last from a few seconds to a few minutes. Heart palpitations are common, and doctors generally consider them harmless.
People who sleep on their side, in particular on the left side, may be more prone to heart palpitations at night. The reason for this is that the heart is right next to the chest wall, and the sensation reverberates. Heart palpitations may also be more noticeable at night because there are fewer distractions and lower noise levels when lying in bed.
There are several possible causes of heart palpitations, including external factors and some underlying health conditions. Some common causes include: exercise or other physical activity, certain medications such as asthma inhalers, cold medicine, or thyroid pills, alcohol, stress, strong emotions, recreational drug use, caffeine and nicotine use, etc.
A number of underlying conditions can also cause heart palpitations, including overactive thyroid, low blood pressure, arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat), low blood sugar levels, and anaemia.
A 2018 study involving 688 people with heart palpitations found that in 81% of cases, symptoms were associated with cardiac arrhythmia. Early detection and treatment of arrhythmia is key to treating the condition.
It may not always be possible to stop heart palpitations, but in most cases, they go away on their own. The following actions may help reduce palpitations: splashing cold water on the face, clenching the stomach and anal muscles and then bearing down as though making a bowel movement, trying deep breathing and pinching the nose and breathing hard out of it.
Treatment for heart palpitations will vary depending on the cause. If the cause is unclear, the usual course of action is to make lifestyle changes, such as: reducing stress, practising meditation, quitting smoking, avoiding second-hand smoke, and avoiding caffeine. Other measures that may help include: reducing or eliminating the intake of alcohol, drinking enough water or other liquids, eating regular meals, and getting enough sleep.
Heart palpitations can also occur due to one of several underlying health conditions, which range in severity and include dehydration and heart disease. Heart palpitations should go away within a few seconds to a few minutes. If they do not, or sensations of confusion, chest pain, or trouble breathing accompany them, seek emergency medical attention immediately.
—The writer is a master’s student at CUK. [email protected]