Adele thought she was having a heart attack.
It was the first time she’d ever felt this fluttering sensation in her chest, and her heart skipping beats.
In fact, she was so afraid that something serious was going on, by the time she contacted me she had already been to the emergency room and to her family doctor to run tests.
Adele was relieved to know that there was nothing “wrong” with her heart, and that what she was experiencing– heart palpitations– is actually very common, and usually not a sign of a more serious heart problem.
But she still wanted to know what was going on– especially when the same thing happened again a few weeks later.
“My doctor says nothing’s wrong,” she told me. “But I still want to know why I’m experiencing this.”
This is the thing about heart palpitations. It’s a good thing that they typically don’t signal a serious heart problem. But they can still be a signal of something off balance in your body.
And even if the palpitations themselves are nothing to be concerned about (in most cases), it’s worth looking at what may be behind them and what that could mean. Let’s take a look.
What are heart palpitations?
Heart palpitations are, essentially, the sensation of being able to feel your own heartbeat. You may experience a fluttering feeling, notice a skipped beat, or feel like your heart is pounding or flip-flopping.
Because we’re not used to feeling our heartbeats like this, they can be alarming. But they’re actually very common, and usually not signs of serious heart problems, especially if they’re short in duration and infrequent.
People of all ages can experience heart palpitations, and they can occur at any time– whether you’re sitting, standing, lying down, or working out.
If your heart palpitations are accompanied by chest pain, dizziness, shortness of breath, or fainting, it’s important to seek immediate medical attention. You should also see a doctor if you have a history of heart disease, or if your palpitations are frequent or worsening.
Keep reading to learn more about the most common and surprising causes of heart palpitations.
What Causes Heart Palpitations?
There are actually all kinds of different things that can lead to heart palpitations. This can make it tricky to get to the root cause– and may be part of the reason why so many conventional doctors simply brush them off.
However, ideally with the help of your practitioner, you can look to other signals and clues from your body and in your life to help determine which cause(s) may be most likely in your case.
For example, are you experiencing other symptoms alongside your heart palpitations? Have you made any changes to your diet, exercise routine, or lifestyle lately? Are you taking any new medications or supplements? Have you been under more stress lately?
Here are some possible causes of heart palpitations:
- Stress, anxiety, or panic attacks
- Adrenal fatigue
- Vigorous exercise or changes in exercise habits
- Certain medications (including amphetamines and some cough & cold meds)
- Alcohol consumption
- High or low estrogen levels
- High or low thyroid hormone levels
- Perimenopause or menopause
- Menstrual cycle
- Low magnesium levels
- Low blood sugar
This is not a complete list, but it’s a pretty good starting point of some of the most common factors I see associated with heart palpitations.
Keep in mind that heart palpitations can also be caused by a more serious health condition, including a heart arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat). It’s always best to check with a doctor to rule out more serious causes.
Heart palpitations, adrenal health, and your hormones
Here’s one of the reasons why I tend to pay more attention than some providers to heart palpitations: they can often signal an issue with adrenal function and chronic stress, and/or a hormonal imbalance.
Stress and anxiety are among the most common causes of heart palpitations in general. But while this might not be a big deal if we’re just talking about one particularly stressful situation, this can be a warning sign of a dysfunctional stress response if they’re occurring more frequently.
That’s why I always look for other signs of adrenal fatigue when I hear “heart palpitations”. These may include fatigue, anxiety, irritability, mood imbalances, or sugar cravings. If we suspect an adrenal issue, we can then move to treating it, and bringing you back to feeling like yourself.
Hormonal imbalances– especially those related to estrogen– can also cause heart fluctuations. Sometimes, this is a result of natural hormonal changes, such as those that occur during your menstrual cycle, in pregnancy, or in menopause.
Menopause is a big one. Many women tell me they experience heart palpitations alongside hot flashes, or just in general as they’re entering menopause.
Of course, menopause itself is a normal (and beautiful) part of life. But I definitely don’t accept the idea that we all need to be suffering through it! There are things you can do to help balance your hormones during this period, and reduce symptoms like hot flashes and heart palpitations.
If you’re not going through a hormonal change like pregnancy or menopause, but you’re experiencing heart palpitations, there could be another kind of hormonal imbalance going on. It’s worth getting your hormone levels checked to see where things are at, and what you can do to normalize things.
Do I need to worry about heart palpitations?
Let me just start by saying this. I never want to tell anyone that they need to worry! And most conventional practitioners– and even many functional medicine practitioners– will default to saying that, as long as they’re infrequent, you don’t need to give heart palpitations a second thought.
I’ll reiterate that for the most part, palpitations don’t mean that you’re having a heart attack or experiencing another serious heart problem.
But I don’t necessarily think that means they should totally be ignored! If you’ve started experiencing heart palpitations (and it’s happened more than once), it’s worth looking into what could be behind them, since it could be a sign of an underlying hormonal imbalance, excess stress, adrenal fatigue, or nutritional imbalance.
So, don’t panic– but do use this signal as an invitation to check in with yourself and take a look at your overall health.
What to do next
What should you do if you’re experiencing heart palpitations here and there? There isn’t necessarily a treatment for this symptom, but you can address the factors that may be causing it.
For example, if you suspect your palpitations are being brought on by stress, work on incorporating meditation, gentle exercise like yoga, and mindfulness practices into your routine.
Try to cut back on potential triggers, like caffeine and alcohol.
Staying hydrated and supplementing with magnesium and coQ10 may also help.
More comprehensively, I would definitely recommend looking into whether your adrenals and/or your hormones may be contributing. If you can identify and address these imbalances, you’re likely to improve a whole lot more than your heart palpitations!
Always listen to your body
So, as you now know, there are all kinds of different things that can lead to heart palpitations. And I want to make sure you know that it’s worth listening to your body and looking into your own potential root causes! Heart palpitations are often dismissed, especially in women. And while I don’t want to create any unnecessary fear or panic about this usually harmless sensation, I do want to empower you to trust your own experience and look at areas of your life where you may be able to reduce stress and feel better!
Reviewed by Dr. Mark Menolascino, MD