What Causes Heart Palpitations?
Common at perimenopause, just what causes them and how can you help yourself?
I get a number of enquiries about palpitations as they can be frightening to experience and are common during perimenopause and linked to the changes in both oestrogen and progesterone.
Why do I get them?
For some women heart palpitations are a major or early symptom of perimenopause as then we have more cycles in which we don’t ovulate, so the progesterone level stays low, leading to progesterone deficiency/oestrogen dominance.
Stress, exercise, medication or, rarely, a medical condition can trigger them and they’re usually harmless.
What do they feel like?
Your heart pounds, flutters, or seems to skip beats and although they can feel scary, knowing what makes your heart race can help you not panic when it happens and know when to call your doctor.
There are a number of factors that are related to palpitations and these are the most common.
Stress and anxiety are intense emotions can trigger the release of hormones that speed up your heartbeat. Your body gets ready to face a threat, even if you’re not in danger.
Panic attacks are intense bouts of fear that can last a few minutes. Symptoms include a racing heart, sweating, chills, trouble breathing, and chest pain. A panic attack can feel like a heart attack. If you’re not sure which one you’re having, get medical help.
Exercise is good for you and a brisk run or intense indoor cycling class will naturally make your heart beat faster. That helps your heart pump more blood to power your muscles through the workout.
If your heart flutters or pounds, it could be because you haven’t worked out in a while and you’re out of condition. BUT an irregular heartbeat, or arrhythmia, can also cause palpitations when you exercise.
Caffeine is a stimulant that raises your heart rate, whether you get it from coffee, soda, an energy drink, tea, chocolate, or another source.
One study found that caffeine from coffee, tea, and chocolate isn’t likely to cause palpitations in people with healthy hearts. But experts don’t know whether it might trigger them in people with heart rhythm problems.
Nicotine is the addictive chemical in cigarettes and other tobacco products, that raises your blood pressure and speeds up your heart rate.
Quitting smoking is one of the best things you can do for your heart, though it might not slow your heartbeat right away. Patches and other nicotine replacement products can make your heart race and palpitations can also be a symptom of nicotine withdrawal, but they should stop within 3 to 4 weeks after you quit.
Hormone changes can affect the heart rate so you might notice that your heartbeat speeds up when you have their period, are pregnant, or in peri/menopause.
The boost in heart rate is usually temporary and no reason for worry and often remedied balancing your hormone levels so that you both oestrogen and progesterone in the right ratio.
Fever during illness can also set off palpitations. Usually your temperature needs to be above 100.4 F to affect your heart rate.
Medication can also have palpitations as a side effect and most common are: antibiotics, anti fungal meds, antipsychotics, asthma inhalers, cough and cold meds, diet pills, blood pressure meds, thyroid meds.
Low blood sugar is common if you have skipped a meal as that too can lead to palpitations. As well as feeling shaky, cranky, and weak your body releases stress hormones like adrenaline to prepare for an emergency food shortage and that speeds up your heart rate.
Thyroid issues are related to your metabolism and that can affect your heart rate.
If it’s overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism) you can make too much thyroid hormone. That can speed up your heart so much that you feel it beating in your chest.
Also taking too much thyroid hormone to treat an underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism) can also rev up your heartbeat.
Heart rhythm problems such as an irregular heart rhythm, called an arrhythmia, causes palpitations.
Atrial fibrillation, or AFib, happens when the heart’s upper chambers flutter instead of beating normally.
Supraventricular tachycardia is an abnormally fast heartbeat that starts in the heart’s upper chambers.
Ventricular tachycardia is a fast heart rate due to faulty signals in the heart’s lower pumping chambers, called the ventricles.
Alcohol may relax you but you may also feel your heart beating faster or fluttering.
But for some people, it can happen even when they only drink a small amount.
Premature ventricular contractions are extra heartbeats that happen when your heart’s ventricles squeeze too soon. The extra beat throws off your heart’s normal rhythm and makes it flutter, pound, or jump in your chest.
If your heart is healthy, occasional PVCs are nothing to worry about. But you might need treatment if you have heart disease and you get these extra beats often.
Illegal drugs like amphetamines, cocaine, and ecstasy are dangerous to the heart.
Cocaine boosts blood pressure, raises heart rate, and damages the heart muscle. Amphetamines stimulate the nervous system, which ramps up your heartbeat. Ecstasy triggers the release of a chemical called norepinephrine, which makes the heart beat faster.
When to see a Doctor
If you’re healthy, you probably don’t need to worry about palpitations that happen once in a while and last only a few seconds. But make a doctor’s appointment if they come more often or you also have symptoms such as chest pain or pressure, shortness of breath, dizziness or fainting.
Some simple self help measures if you are having a palpitation include deep breathing to relax you, and splashing cold water on your face as this stimulates a nerve that manages your heart rate.
BUT if you’re experiencing what feels like frequent or prolonged episodes, more than 6 per minute or coming in groups of 3 or more and you have heart disease or risk factors for heart disease, such as high cholesterol, diabetes, or high blood pressure then always report them to your doctor.
Reducing stress and anxiety are key, as is hormone balance so if you are oestrogen dominant try increasing your progesterone levels and try a diet to help you get control of it.