Chemocare.com

Care During Chemotherapy and Beyond

Heart Palpitations



What are heart palpitations?

Palpitations are the uncomfortable feeling that you are aware of your own heart beating. Symptoms include that your heart may feel like it is beating faster or harder than it usually does, or that it may be skipping a beat (irregular heartbeat).

Heart palpitations are normal, and occur in times of stress, anxiety, fear or exercise. You may also notice heart palpitations and an irregular heartbeat if:

  • You are drinking too much caffeine or alcohol
  • You smoke tobacco
  • You have anemia
  • You have thyroid problems
  • You are diabetic, and are experiencing a low blood sugar level
  • You are taking certain medicines, such as diet pills, and decongestants
  • You have certain heart conditions, such as mitral valve prolapse

Heart palpitations may be normal, or they could be associated with a serious health problem. Call your healthcare provider if your heart palpitations last longer than a few hours, or if the irregular heartbeat occurs frequently.

What are some symptoms of heart palpitations to look for?

  • You may feel anxious, or "stressed out." You may feel your heart pounding in your chest or throat, which may cause pain or mild discomfort. You may also feel your heart "fluttering", and it may seem as if it is skipping a beat or beating irregularly.
  • Some people may have chest pain in addition to their heart palpitations, which may range from excruciating, to a mild discomfort. The severity of pain does not indicate how severe the damage to the heart muscle may be. If you experience chest pain with your heart palpitations, seek emergency help immediately.

Things you can do to avoid heart palpitations:

  • Make sure you tell your doctor, as well as all healthcare providers, about any other medications you are taking (including over-the-counter, vitamins, or herbal remedies). 
  • Remind your doctor or healthcare provider if you have a history of diabetes, liver, kidney, or heart disease.
  • If you have a family history of heart disease, stroke, high blood cholesterol, or high blood pressure, in a first or second-degree relative, you may be at risk for certain problems. Notify your healthcare provider if you have any of these diseases in your family.
  • Smoking can cause heart palpitations. If you smoke, be sure to quit. Smoking can also increase the chance of developing heart vessel damage.
  • Caffeine and alcohol can cause heart palpitations. Eliminate caffeine and alcohol from your diet, and your palpitations may resolve.
  • Keep a diary of your irregular heartbeat or heart palpitations, if they are occurring regularly. Write down the foods that you have eaten, the exercise or activity you were undergoing when the rapid or irregular heartbeats occurred, and how you felt before they occurred. This diary may be valuable in determining the cause of your irregular heartbeat.
  • Questions to ask yourself, may include:
    • Did the irregular heartbeat or palpitations occur gradually, or did this episode come on all of a sudden? Was I feeling anxious? Did I perform any kind of activity, or was I resting?
  • Make sure to exercise, under the supervision of your healthcare provider. Walking, swimming, or light aerobic activity may help you to lose weight, and promote the flow of oxygen in your lungs and blood. It will also promote relaxation.
  • Anxiety can cause heart palpitations. Use relaxation techniques to decrease the amount of anxiety you have. If you feel anxious, place yourself in a quiet environment, and close your eyes. Take slow, steady, deep breaths, and try to concentrate on things that have relaxed you in the past.
  • If you are ordered a medication to treat your heart palpitations, do not stop taking any medication unless your healthcare provider tells you to. Take the medication exactly as directed. Do not share your pills with anyone.
  • If you miss a dose of your medication, discuss with your healthcare provider what you should do.
  • If you experience symptoms or side effects, especially if severe, be sure to discuss them with your health care team.  They can prescribe medications and/or offer other suggestions that are effective in managing such problems.
  • Keep all your appointments for your treatments.

Drugs that may be prescribed by your doctor to treat heart palpitations:

  • ACE inhibitors - These drugs work by opening, or dilating, your arteries. They will lower your blood pressure, and improve blood flow to your kidneys, and throughout your body, thus lowering the risk of heart palpitations. Your healthcare provider may also prescribe these medications if you have diabetes or protein in your urine, to protect your kidneys. Some examples of this medication may include: enalapril maleate (Vasotec®), lisinopril (Zestril®), and fosinopril sodium (Monopril®)
  • Antianxiety medications: If your heart palpitations are due to anxiety, your healthcare provider may prescribe an anti-anxiety medication, called an anxiolytic.  These medications will help you to relax. These may include lorazepam (Ativan®), or alprazolam (Xanax®). It is important to take these medications only when you are feeling anxious. Do not operate heavy machinery, or drive an automobile while taking these. If you are still experiencing palpitations while taking these medications, discuss this with your doctor.
  • Beta-blockers - These can be used to slow down your heart rate, and improve blood flow through your body, thus reducing your risk of palpitations. You may take this drug if you have been diagnosed with irregular heartbeats, or high blood pressure. Some examples of this medication may include: metoprolol (Lopressor®), propranolol (Inderal®), and atenolol (Tenormin®).
  • Calcium Channel Blockers - These medications may be given to treat chest pain, high blood pressure, or irregular heartbeats. A few common drugs include verapamil HCL (Calan®), and diltiazem (Dilacor XR®).
  • Digoxin - Also called digitalis, this medication works by slowing down the heart rate, and making it beat more effectively. This will pump blood through out the body better. It is also called Lanoxin®. You will receive this medication if your palpitations are due to an irregular heartbeat.
  • Diuretics - may be known as "water pills" as they work to prevent heart failure by making you urinate out extra fluid. Some examples of this medication may include furosemide (Lasix®), and hydrochlorthiazide. You may receive this medication alone or in combination with other medications, if your palpitations are caused by irregular heartbeats.
  • Do not stop any of these medications abruptly, as serious side effects may occur

When to call your doctor or health care provider:

Call your doctor with the following symptoms:

  • Fever of 100.5° F (38° C), chills, sore throat (possible signs of infection).
  • Shortness of breath, chest pain or discomfort; swelling of your lips or throat should be evaluated immediately
  • Feeling your heart beat rapidly (palpitations) or irregularly
  • Any new rashes on your skin, especially if you have recently changed medications
  • Any unusual swelling in your feet and legs
  • Weight gain of greater than 3 to 5 pounds in 1 week.

Note:  We strongly encourage you to talk with your health care professional about your specific medical condition and treatments. The information contained in this website is meant to be helpful and educational, but is not a substitute for medical advice.