Your heart just skipped a beat — and sadly, it’s not because you locked eyes with an attractive stranger. If your heart flutters, pounds, races or misses a beat, that feeling is known as heart palpitations.
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“Heart palpitations are common,” says electrophysiologist, Oussama Wazni, MD who specializes in abnormal heart rhythms. “They can be linked to heart problems. But they’re usually harmless.”
Still, it’s unsettling to feel like a butterfly is flapping around in your ribcage. If you’re prone to palpitations, here’s what you should know — and how to calm the flutter.
What are heart palpitations?
Heart palpitations can feel like a skip or a stutter. Sometimes, it feels like your heart is racing up or slowing down for no reason. Typically, they last just a few seconds.
And in many cases, they’re nothing to worry about. But they might be a sign of an arrhythmia or abnormal heart rhythm. Arrhythmias are often caused by heart disease, heart valve problems, abnormal potassium levels or other issues.
“If you’re having palpitations frequently, or the sensation lasts more than a few seconds, it’s a good idea to get checked out,” says Dr. Wazni.
And head to the emergency room (or call 911) if the palpitations come with other heart symptoms, such as:
- Chest pain.
- Unusual sweating.
- Shortness of breath.
- Loss of consciousness.
- Dizziness or lightheadedness.
How to stop heart palpitations
You and your doctor have ruled out serious causes of palpitations (phew). But you’d still like your fluttering heart to take a break already.
Unfortunately, there’s no off switch for heart palpitations. But you can take steps to prevent them from happening.
Heart palpitations often strike when you’re stressed. Try to find ways to banish stress, including getting plenty of sleep and regular exercise. Relaxation techniques like yoga, meditation and deep breathing can help reduce stress and prevent palpitations.
Bonus: If your heart does start to flutter or race, stress management techniques like deep breathing can help calm your body and get your heartbeat back on track.
2. Address anxiety
Palpitations can be caused by anxiety, fear or panic attacks. The good news? Anxiety is treatable. If you find yourself frequently worried or uneasy, talk to your doctor or a mental health professional. Addressing the anxiety can help your heart rest easy.
3. Step away from the stimulants (coffee included)
Heart palpitations can be triggered by caffeine and other stimulants, including diet pills, cough and cold medicine, tobacco products and certain illegal drugs, such as cocaine. To prevent palpitations, embrace decaf coffee and avoid other stimulants.
4. Cut back on cocktails
Alcohol isn’t a stimulant, but it can also trigger palpitations. Limiting or avoiding alcoholic drinks can help keep your heart steady.
5. Quench your thirst
Dehydration and heart palpitations often go hand in hand. When you’re dehydrated, your blood gets thicker. Your heart has to work harder to pump it around your body. That can boost the odds of palpitations. Drink plenty of water throughout the day to stay hydrated. If your heart rate seems to be spiking, pour yourself a tall glass of H2O.
6. Exercise safely
Regular physical activity is great for heart health. But in some people, overdoing it can cause palpitations. If working out makes your heart skip or race, dial down the intensity — or avoid that particular activity altogether. And, it’s always a good idea to chat with your doctor before starting a new exercise routine.
If you take these tips to heart, you’ll be less likely to experience frequent flutters. And you can save the skipped beats for the attractive stranger.