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Harmless Palpitation or Heart Problem?

By CHI Health Heart Team January 03, 2024 Posted in: Heart Health

Your heart beats so steadily every second of the day, you probably don’t think about it – until it feels different.

We’ve all experienced a racing heart. Maybe it happens when you’re on a rollercoaster or while speaking in public. Some people are more aware of their heart rate thanks to smartwatches and fitness apps that track the numbers.

Know Your Number

So what is a “normal” heart rate and when should you be concerned? There’s a pretty wide range for a normal resting heart rate – between 60 and 100 beats per minute. Some people naturally run on the higher or lower end, and trained athletes and those on certain medications go as low as 40 beats per minute.

How to Check Your Pulse

To find out your heart rate without a smartwatch or fitness device, check your pulse.

  • Place your index and third fingers on the underside of your wrist on the thumb side
  • Count the number of beats for 15 seconds
  • Multiply this number by 4

Several factors influence your heart rate. These include age and body size, activity and fitness levels, smoking/drinking alcohol, health (heart disease, diabetes, etc.), medications, emotions and even air temperature.

What Causes Palpitations?

If you occasionally feel your heart racing, pounding, fluttering or missing a beat in your chest, throat or neck, you’re most likely experiencing palpitations. These are noticeably rapid, strong or irregular heartbeats which can occur for many reasons, including:

  • Emotions (anxiety, stress, fear, panic)
  • Strenuous activity/exercise/extreme fatigue
  • Pregnancy/hormone changes
  • Fever, anemia, dehydration, blood loss
  • Some cough/cold medicines and herbal/nutritional supplements
  • Low levels of sugar, potassium, carbon dioxide
  • Caffeine, nicotine, alcohol, illicit drug use
  • Pain or discomfort

While palpitations usually are no reason for concern, they can sometimes be due to an abnormal heart rhythm caused by:

  • Heart disease
  • Abnormal heart valve
  • Abnormal electrolyte level including potassium or calcium
  • Abnormal thyroid gland
  • Prescription medications (asthma inhalers, beta blockers, thyroid and antiarrhythmic medicines)
  • Low blood oxygen level

How to Reduce Palpitations

If you experience occasional palpitations, there are things you can do to limit or prevent them. Each of these recommendations are also ways to improve your overall health and wellness.

  • Get regular exercise
  • Work toward a healthy weight
  • Address stress and anxiety
  • Practice relaxation or breathing exercises
  • Quit smoking/drinking or limit intake
  • Seek help for illicit drug use
  • Keep yourself hydrated
  • Get enough sleep or seek evaluation if you have sleep disorder

When to Call for Heart Help

When it comes to heart concerns, it’s always better to err on the side of caution. Call your provider right away if you have:

  • New, different palpitations or frequent palpitations
  • Heart disease or risk factors (high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes)
  • Other symptoms

Call 911 right away if you have:

  • Loss of consciousness
  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Unusual sweating
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness

Whenever you have a question about your heart, don’t hesitate to contact your provider. We would rather address a harmless concern than miss a potential problem. Together, we can keep your heart beating strong.

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