You may feel palpitations in your chest, throat, or neck during activity or when you are sitting still or lying down. Strong emotions, physical activity, some medicines, caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, or illegal drugs may cause palpitations. Medical conditions such as thyroid disease, low blood sugar, anemia, and low blood pressure also may cause palpitations. Heart palpitations may be a sign or symptom of arrhythmia, an irregular heartbeat, or other heart conditions such as heart attack, heart failure, heart valve disease, or cardiomyopathy.
Although palpitations are very common and usually harmless, they can be frightening when they happen and may cause anxiety. Most go away on their own. To prevent palpitations, you can try to avoid things that trigger them, such as stress, alcohol, or caffeine. You also may prevent palpitations by treating any other medical condition that may be causing them.
Palpitations may be a sign of more serious heart problems. You should seek medical attention immediately if you have palpitations and feel dizzy or confused, have trouble breathing, think you may faint, or have pain or tightness in your chest. Your doctor will perform a physical exam and possibly other tests. These tests may include an electrocardiogram (EKG), a stress test, or the use of a Holter or event monitor to study your heart’s activity. Treatment for palpitations will depend on the cause.
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The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) leads or sponsors many studies aimed at preventing, diagnosing, and treating heart, lung, blood, and sleep disorders.