So many of the patients I see experience palpitations – but what are these, and why do they occur?

Palpitations are an awareness of your heartbeat. You may feel like your heart is racing, skipped a beat, a thump in your chest, or butterflies in your chest. Palpitations mean different things to different people. They may represent an underlying condition or be completely benign.

If your palpitations feel as if your heart is missing a beat or is stopping, this can be scary!  Often,  this is due to ventricular ectopics or premature ventricular contractions. As the name implies, these are extra heartbeats originating in the heart’s bottom chambers (the ventricles). A normal heartbeat originates from the top of the heart (the atria).

We all have ectopic beats. However, some people are more aware of them than others. These abnormal heartbeats can be quite disconcerting if you’re conscious of them. Ectopics may occasionally occur if there is an abnormality with the structure of your heart, but in most people, this is not the case. They typically happen at night or at rest when your heart rate is lower and are not as noticeable when you’re busy or active. Alcohol, caffeine, stress and lack of sleep are the most common triggers. 

When your heartbeat feels irregular, it may be due to the ectopics described above or to a condition called atrial fibrillation (Afib or AF for short). AF is when your heart beats irregularly and chaotically. Many people are unaware that they have AF, so getting your doctor or a pharmacist to do a pulse check is a simple way of being sure.

Palpitations can also be due to other heart rhythm disturbances. A supra-ventricular tachycardia (SVT) can feel like your heart is racing fast and regularly. Many patients describe feeling their heart pounding in their chest or neck. SVTs often start abruptly, with no warning, and can happen anytime. They can make you feel light-headed and dizzy.

Often, an awareness of your heartbeat is not abnormal and can be quite common at times of increased stress and/or anxiety.

Read more about how to manage stress and anxiety in our following blogs:

If you’re worried about your symptoms, it is best to seek specialist advice. By hearing from you what you experience, along with some simple tests, we can usually work out what is causing the symptoms. Often, the problem doesn’t need any treatment and improves when you know it’s not dangerous.

Simple lifestyle measures such as reducing alcohol and caffeine, minimising stress and sleeping more can be very helpful. Learn more about improving your lifestyle to help your heart health in our blog, ‘Lifestyle changes to help manage arrhythmia’.

If treatment is required, medications or a simple curative procedure called ablation may be suitable and help eliminate your symptoms.

Book an appointment today and we can provide private cardiac tests to ensure you have no underlying heart condition. Once we have confirmed your diagnosis, we will form a personalised treatment plan to suit your needs.