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When are heart palpitations a cause for concern?

Cardiology

I'm a 28 years old female. Sometimes, I can feel my heart pumping fast out of a sudden. Why is this so, and when are heart palpitations a cause for concern?

DOCTOR’S ANSWER (1)

Heart palpitations are heartbeats that you suddenly notice.

Your heart may feel like it's pounding heavily or beating irregularly for a few moments.

Although they may seem worrying, the good news is that they are mostly harmless and are NOT a sign of a serious issue.

If your palpitations only last a few seconds and do not recur frequently, you may not need to see a doctor. This is because any of the following can all cause "harmless" palpitations:

  • Caffeine
  • Smoking
  • Stress/anxiety
  • Exercise
  • Certain types of medications
In these examples, your palpitations will generally go away by itself if you change your behaviour - such as controlling anxiety or drinking less coffee.

However, if your palpitations:

  • occur frequently
  • last for longer than a few seconds
  • get worse
  • are associated with other symptoms such as breathlessness, dizziness, fainting, or chest discomfort
you should seek urgent medical attention. Some medical causes of palpitations which need to be treated include:
  • an overactive thyroid gland
  • heart conditions, such as abnormal heart structure and abnormal heart rhythms

To help determine the cause for your palpitations, your doctor may:

  • ask about your symptoms, family history and medical history
  • perform some blood tests
  • carry out an ECG
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