Causes of Palpitations

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Doctor's View on Causes of Palpitations

Comment by John P. Cunha, DO, FACOEP

What are palpitations?

Palpitations are unpleasant sensations of irregular, rapid, or forceful beating of the heart. They are a common occurrence, though often not a cause for concern.

Causes of palpitations

There are numerous causes for palpitations including

  • anxiety (palpitations can occur during panic attacks);
  • stress;
  • physical activity;
  • dehydration;
  • some medications such as diet pills, decongestants, or asthma inhalers;
  • caffeine;
  • alcohol;
  • nicotine;
  • illegal drugs, especially stimulants such as cocaine or methamphetamines;
  • hormonal changes such as during menstruation, pregnancy or menopause; or
  • certain medical conditions such as heart disease, thyroid disease, or anemia.

In most of these cases, while your heart might beat faster or more forcefully than it usually does, your heart is still working normally.

However, some palpitations are a symptom of arrhythmias, which are abnormal heart rhythms. The heart may beat too fast, too slow, or irregularly. Sometimes arrhythmias are symptoms of heart attack, heart failure, heart valve disease, coronary artery disease, congestive heart failure, or heart muscle disease.

If you have palpitations along with shortness of breath, dizziness, chest pain, or fainting, seek medical attention immediately.

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Causes of Palpitations Resources

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Doctor written main article on Palpitations


"What Are Palpitations." National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. July 2011.

Zimetbaum, Peter J., et al. "Overview of Palpitations in Adults." UpToDate. 8 Nov. 2012.

Last Editorial Review: 8/13/2013 7:12:18 PM