What are heart palpitations?
Most of the time you won’t notice your heartbeat, but if you suddenly become aware of it, this may concern you or come as a surprise. The feeling of being aware of your heart beating is described as a palpitation.
Palpitations can range from simply being aware of your heart’s activity to the sensation of it beating faster and harder than usual. It can sometimes feel like your heart is missing beats.
Although changes to your heartbeat are not always serious, they can be worrying.
See your doctor if the palpitations last more than a couple of seconds, don't improve, get worse, or you have heart problems.
Dial triple zero (000) if you have heart palpitations along with these symptoms:
- severe shortness of breath
- chest pain or tightness
- dizziness or light-headedness
- fainting or blackouts.
Causes of palpitations
There are many causes of palpitations and it’s common to experience them when you feel:
This is due to a rise in adrenaline levels, which can cause your heart to beat faster.
Palpitations and irregular heartbeat can also be caused by:
- strenuous activity
- drinks or foods containing caffeine (such as coffee, cola, tea and chocolate)
- alcohol alcohol and nicotine nicotine
- taking certain medicines (such as ephedrine and theophylline)
- taking recreational drugs (such as cocaine and amphetamines)
- hormone changes
- heart rhythm problems (arrhythmias)
- heart conditions such as heart failure and congenital heart disease
- low blood sugar
- overactive thyroid
- dizziness and low blood pressure when you stand up too quickly.
If you have heart palpitations, or irregular or rapid heartbeats, there are a number of things you can do:
- try to sit down and relax or find somewhere quiet to rest
- keep yourself calm and in a comfortable position
- try not to panic as this can make your symptoms worse
- you may find it helpful to loosen any restrictive (tight) clothing that can affect your breathing, such as your collar button and tie
- avoid any stimulants that could make your palpitations worse – this includes caffeine, nicotine, alcohol and recreational drugs.
If you are concerned about your heart palpitations please consult your doctor.
Not sure what to do next?
If you are still concerned about your heart palpitations, check your symptoms with healthdirect’s online Symptom Checker to get advice on when to seek medical attention.
The Symptom Checker guides you to the next appropriate healthcare steps, whether it’s self care, talking to a health professional, going to a hospital or calling triple zero (000).
Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.
Last reviewed: September 2017