Some people describe heart palpitations as a skipped beat, while others consider them more of a fluttering sensation. In any case, palpitations can catch you off guard and leave you wondering if something’s wrong with your heart.
Cardiac specialist Jeffrey H. Graf, MD, evaluates patients for palpitations quite frequently at our office on the Upper East Side of New York City. One of the first questions he asks is whether you have any other symptoms, such as chest pain or breathing difficulties, which he takes into account during your evaluation.
The good news is that a wide majority of heart palpitations come from harmless causes. If you only get palpitations every once in a while and you’re perfectly healthy otherwise, chances are they’re not a threat to your health.
However, palpitations sometimes are a cause for concern. Here’s what you need to know about heart palpitations and when you should get them checked out.
What happens during a palpitation
So what exactly causes the sensation of a heart palpitation? After all, your heart normally beats consistently without stumbling over itself, so it may be especially jarring if a heart palpitation happens while you’re otherwise at rest. Palpitations are exactly what they feel like: There’s a hiccup in your heartbeat.
Some heart palpitations occur because one of the upper chambers in your heart contracts earlier than it normally does. When this happens, you feel the sensation of skipping a heartbeat followed by a stronger contraction of the lower chambers. The stronger beat is your heart working a bit harder to remove the excess blood from its lower chambers.
Other types of heart palpitations come from the lower chambers, or ventricles, contracting slightly earlier than usual. Additionally, you might experience heart palpitations because of a faulty sinoatrial (SA) node, which controls your heart’s contractions.
The many causes
There are both mild conditions that cause heart palpitations and serious ones. Fortunately, most palpitations are no cause for concern. In fact, it’s often simple to identify the cause.
Your heart palpitations may be happening because of:
- Stress or anxiety
- A nutrient deficiency
- Too much caffeine
- Blood loss
- Certain medications
- Nicotine or alcohol
On the more serious end, palpitations can come from heart conditions like cardiomyopathy or heart valve disease. However, other symptoms are also involved when this is the case.
When to visit a doctor
If you experience palpitations, you should make an appointment with Dr. Graf to determine the cause of your heart palpitations. Palpitations that occur every once in a while are typically not a cause for concern.
It’s important to see your cardiologist right away if you have other symptoms of heart problems — such as shortness of breath, chest pain, or passing out.
When you visit Jeffrey H. Graf, MD, for an evaluation, he explores every possible avenue to uncover the cause of your palpitations. If you’re concerned about heart palpitations, don’t hesitate to schedule an appointment over the phone or online with us today.