Heart palpitations are characterized by an unusually rapid or abnormal heartbeat that might be accompanied by other symptoms. Causes can range from a variety of physical contributions to sheer anxiety. Your heart contains it’s own electrical system and these abnormalities may signal a brief short circuit in the system.


  • Fluttering, flop or thump in the chest
  • Lightheadedness, feelings of passing out.
  • Nausea
  • Sweating
  • Shortness of breath

Who is at risk?

Anyone will have an occasional abnormal heart beat, whether they are aware or not. Palpitations may be elicited by caffeine, nicotine, alcohol, diet supplements and many over the counter cold medicines. Illegal drugs, especially cocaine and amphetamines, are a prevalent cause. One organic cause may be a thyroid disease (eg, hyperthyroidism). Benign heart problems, like Mitral Valve Prolapse (MVP) may lead to palpitations. More severe heart disease problems, like past heart attacks, may predispose you to some of the more severe forms of abnormal heart beats (like Atrial Fibrillation).


Your doctor can test to see if your palpitations are something more serious using an Electrocardiogram (EKG) and some simple blood tests.


Many episodes of palpitations are benign and may be addressed by carefully sorting out the potential cause of the irregular beats (such as too many cups of coffee) and then getting rid of that cause. More serious electrical abnormalities may require a very brief electrical shock or medication for correction. You must let a medical professional evaluate whether your palpitation is mild or serious. There are no home treatments for a serious case of irregular heart beat and you may be putting your life at risk by not having it promptly evaluated.

Emergency Warning Signs: When should I see a doctor?

If you or someone in your care experiences chest pain, breathing difficulty, weakness or numbness with palpitations or loses consciousness, call 911 immediately. If you experience a brief palpitation that might be related to caffeine, alcohol or medications you’ve ingested, come in to Mountain Lakes Medical Center in Mountain Lakes, NJ for evaluation.

For more information on palpitations, see the following websites:

eMedicine Health Overview on Palpitations

Heart Palpitations in Women from Women to Women on Palpitations in Heart Disease

American Heart Assn on Arrhythmias

Disclaimer: The links above are to sites independent of The pages will open in a new browser window. The information provided is for educational purposes only, and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have or suspect you may have a health problem, you should consult your doctor. Always follow your doctor’s recommendations regarding your specific medical questions, treatments, therapies, and other needs.