Why Does My Heart Skip A Beat or Race?

Have you ever been sitting in a meeting or trying to fall asleep and suddenly your heart skips, flutters or maybe starts racing? You aren’t alone.

Palpitations or flutters can feel like the heart is throbbing, flip-flopping, murmuring, or pounding. They can also feel like the heart skips a beat. Some people feel palpitations as a pounding in the chest or neck; others feel them as a general sense of unease. Symptoms are very subjective and can vary between people.

Maybe you only feel symptoms once in a while and think it is due to stress or anxiety. If this happens regularly or for long periods of time you could have a more serious heart rhythm problem.

Dr. Mohamad Sinno, MD, Electrophysiologist, St. Elizabeth Physicians, explains “many cases of palpitations are harmless, but some arrhythmias can be dangerous and require ongoing care from a physician. It is important to remember if they last a long time or give you more serious symptoms, get to a hospital.”

Common triggers of heart palpitations are exercise, anxiety, lack of sleep or stress. Other triggers include:

  • Dehydration
  • Dietary supplements
  • Drugs and medications
  • Fever
  • Heartburn (acid reflux)
  • Low potassium
  • Low blood sugar
  • Nicotine
  • Overactive thyroid
  • Prior heart attack
  • Pregnancy
  • Standing up
  • Swallowing
  • Too much caffeine, chocolate, or alcohol

Self-Help Techniques for Heart Palpitations
If you have occasional unexplained palpitations, start with the simple things first:

  • Cut back on alcohol.
  • Don’t smoke.
  • Drink more water.
  • Eliminate caffeine.
  • Get enough sleep.
  • Have your doctor check all of your medications and supplements.

You can also try to stop it yourself with one of the following techniques:

  1. Deep breathing: Breath in slowly and deeply through your nose. Place one hand on your abdomen and feel it move outward. Exhale and repeat.
  2. Valsalva maneuver: Pinch your nose closed and close your mouth. Push air forcibly through your nose.
  3. Bear down: Clench your stomach and butt muscles and bear down as if you are having a bowel movement.
  4. Cold water: Splash cold water on your face or take a cold shower.

If these techniques don’t work and the symptoms continue, go to the nearest emergency department or call 911.

When Should I see a Doctor?
If self-help techniques don’t work, and palpitations are still bothering you, see a doctor. Your doctor will need to obtain a history, do a physical exam and potentially run some of the following tests:

  • Electrocardiogram (ECG) – An ECG records your heart’s electrical activity over the course of 10 seconds or so. So if you are not having palpitations at the time the ECG is run, further testing may be necessary.
  • Stress test – If your palpitations come with chest pain, your doctor may want you to have an exercise stress test.
  • Holter monitor or event monitor – These record your heart’s rhythm as you go about your daily activities. Small patches called electrodes are stuck onto your chest and attached to a recorder. You could wear a monitor for 23 hours or several weeks.

When the heart doesn’t beat properly, it can’t pump blood effectively. That means your lungs, brain and all other organs can’t work properly and may shut down or be damaged.

If you think you have arrhythmia the St. Elizabeth Arrhythmia Center can help. Call (859) 331-3353 for more information or to schedule an appointment.