Heart palpitations anxiety (A brief guide)

Heart palpitations anxiety (A brief guide)

In this brief guide, we will discuss what does heart palpitations anxiety means, what causes it and some useful techniques to deal with it.

What is Heart palpitations anxiety?

Heart palpitations anxiety makes reference to an abnormally increased heart rate, where you can feel like your heart is racing pounding or fluttering.

This is considered one of the symptoms of anxiety, along with feelings of nervousness, tension, restlessness or an uneasy stomach. 

You may be familiar with the feeling, you go into a crowded room or you are going through a stressful or fearful situation and your heart starts beating so fast you think you are having a heart attack.

But you can also feel how your heart starts beating really fast if you were given good news or you are excited about something.  

Additionally, when you are having heart palpitations due to stress or anxiety you may be more aware of them and it can cause fear and uncertainty of this situation being considered as normal or you may think you actually have a heart problem.

It is important to assess the situation and the symptoms in order to know if you need a second opinion from your doctor to put your mind at ease. 

According to the Mayo Clinic, heart palpitations are feelings of having a fast-beating fluttering or pounding heart.

Some of the known triggers are stress, exercise, medication or certain medical conditions.

They can make you feel very worried but they are usually harmless and in some rare cases it can be associated with a more serious heart condition, requiring treatment. 

Anxiety response

Having anxiety due to stress-related situations or feeling nervous from time to time is considered normal.

This triggers a response in your body which immediately causes a physiological activation to prepare your body to respond to situations or stimulus considered threatening or harmful. 

This is also known as the “flight or fight” response, in which your heart rate increases to help circulate more blood to other parts of the body so you are better equipped to run or deal with a potential threat. 

The anxiety centre indicates that “when stress responses occur infrequently, the body can recover relatively quickly from the physiological, psychological, and emotional changes the stress response brings about.

When stress responses occur too frequently, however, the body has a more difficult time recovering.

This can cause the body to remain in a state of semi-emergency response readiness, which we call stress-response hyperstimulation since stress hormones are stimulants.”

Symptoms of heart palpitations anxiety

Heart palpitations can feel as if your heart is:

  • Skipping beats
  • Fluttering rapidly
  • Beating too fast
  • Pounding
  • Flip-flopping

You might even feel those palpitations in your throat/neck or your chest, and they can even manifest more commonly when you are active but also when you are resting. 

How to tell the difference between heart palpitations anxiety or a heart condition?

This is a good question, and there is no simple answer since there could be a symptom overlap and it can be easy to confuse them.

The best way of knowing is to consult a physician and get a further assessment through an electrocardiogram (EKG or ECG) or a heart monitor.

However, according to WebMD, some studies have shown that stress and anxiety can worsen symptoms of a serious heart condition called Atrial Fibrillation but more research on the matter is needed to determine if people with anxiety and depression are actually at a higher risk for developing it. 

Dr T. Jared Bunch from Everyday Health indicates that there are some clues to determine whether you are having heart palpitations due to anxiety or a heart problem, the most straightforward clue is symptom pattern. 

This means that if anxiety is making your heart race then it is associated to stressful feelings that cause the elevated heart rate but if it is your heart causing the anxiety then the palpitations will come first and then the anxiety.

When should I see a doctor?

Heart palpitations often last a few seconds and don’t occur very often, meaning they don’t tend need to be evaluated by a doctor but if you have a history of heart disease and these palpitations tend to happen often or get worse then you may require to see a doctor for further evaluation. 

Additionally, seek immediate medical help if the heart palpitations come with pain, fainting, severe shortness of breath and severe dizziness. 

Causes for Heart Palpitations 

In some cases the causes cant be determined, however, some of the most common causes can include (Mayo Clinic):

  • Strong emotional responses, such as stress, anxiety or panic attacks
  • Depression
  • Strenuous exercise
  • Stimulants such as caffeine, nicotine, cocaine, amphetamines, and cold and cough medications that contain pseudoephedrine
  • Fever 
  • Hormone changes associated with menstruation, pregnancy or menopause
  • Too much or too little thyroid hormone

Certain health conditions can cause heart palpitations and can be a sign of a major problem.

Some of those conditions include hyperthyroidism or abnormal heart rhythm known as arrhythmias, which subsequently can cause a very fast heart rate (tachycardia), an unusually slow heart rate (bradycardia) or an irregular heart rhythm. 

According to the Anxiety Centre, some causes of heart palpitations related to anxiety include:

  • Lack of sleep or sleep disruption
  • Electrolyte imbalance such as having low levels of potassium
  • An anxiety disorder
  • Having a sedentary life or being out of shape
  • Moderate to severe alcohol intake
  • Consuming supplements such as ginseng, bitter orange, valerian or hawthorn. Natural supplements are rich in 5-HTP, an amino acid, which raises serotonin levels.
  • Having fever
  • Hormone fluctuations due to pregnancy, menstruation or menopause
  • Hyperventilation 
  • Lower blood sugar levels 
  • Low levels of oxygen in your blood
  • Stress
  • Using recreational drugs such as cocaine

Risk factors

You are at a higher risk of developing heart palpitations if you:

  • Are constantly stressed
  • Have an anxiety disorder or suffer from panic attacks
  • Are pregnant
  • Are taking medications that contain stimulants (e.g. cold or asthma meds)
  • Have hyperthyroidism
  • Have heart problems such a heart defect or an arrhythmia
  • Have had a heart attack
  • Have had a heart surgery

Complications from heart palpitations

There is little risk if you are having heart palpitations alone, without an underlying heart condition.

However, if your heart palpitations are manifesting due to a heart problem then some of the possible complications include:

  • Fainting: if your heart beats at an abnormal rate this can cause your blood pressure to drop and subsequently you can faint. 
  • Cardiac arrest: it is rare that heart palpitations can lead to a life-threatening condition, however, if you have arrhythmia then your heart can stop beating as it is supposed to. 
  • Stroke: if palpitations are caused by a heart condition such as atrial fibrillation where the upper chambers of your heart start to have an abnormal firing of electrical impulses then blood clots can form and block brain arteries causing a stroke.
  • Heart failure: if due to arrhythmia your heart starts to pump blood ineffectively and for a prolonged period of time then this can consequently evolve into heart failure. 

How to prevent heart palpitations?

As we have discussed, some heart problems that cause heart palpitations may need medical attention, however, there are some cases that can be handled using certain techniques. Some of them include (Medical News Today):

  • Relaxation techniques: it is not a secret that stress is a major contributor to having heart palpitations. Nevertheless, you can actually handle or manage it by using some relaxation techniques such as meditation, breathing exercises, keeping a journal, doing yoga, spending some time outdoors, exercising or taking some time off work/school, among others.
  • Reduce your stimulant intake: heart palpitations can be exacerbated or worsen when using certain substances. It is recommended to reduce the intake or eliminate it entirely from your life. Some of the contributing substances are illegal drugs, beverages with caffeine such as coffee, tea and soda, appetite suppressants and some cold/cough medications. 
  • Stimulating your vagus nerve: this nerve connects the brain to the heart and if you stimulate it then it can help to reduce and to calm your heart palpitations. You can do it simply by taking a cold shower, holding your breath and pushing as if making a bowel movement, also placing ice or a cold towel on your face for a few seconds can help. 
  • Electrolytes balance: these are known molecules that help transfer electrical signals throughout your body and they have a significant effect in your heart rate. Some of the foods you can consume to boost your electrolytes are foods rich in magnesium, sodium, potassium or calcium (e.g. potatoes, dairy products, fish, nuts, bananas, avocados, spinach).
  • Stay hydrated: water is very important for many bodily functions, try drinking plenty of water during the day. When you are dehydrated your heart will have to work harder to pump blood throughout your body causing heart palpitations. 
  • Try exercising regularly: exercise has been proven to improve your overall health, especially your cardiovascular activity restoring the normal heart rate. You don’t need to go to the gym for hours, simply try walking a few minutes during the day or jogging, biking or swimming can also help.
  • Eating healthy: some heart conditions may develop if you are having bad dietary habits or if you are consuming too many foods with high cholesterol levels, saturated fat or trans fat. Try consuming controlled portion sizes, incorporate more vegetables and fruits and select whole grains. 

Why is this blog about heart palpitations anxiety important?

Heart palpitations can be felt with such intensity that it might make you feel afraid that you are having a heart attack.

This is a normal physiological response when we are exposed to certain situations that makes us feel anxious or nervous.

However, it is important to be aware that there are serious heart problems that can also manifest through heart palpitations. 

It is important to take into consideration all of the symptoms, assess the situation when having heart palpitations and determine when it is necessary to seek medical advice.

We have also discussed some tips on how to reduce the heart palpitations when they manifest due to anxiety but remember that serious medical conditions can only be treated by a physician. 

Please feel free to comment in the comments section below!

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Heart palpitations anxiety

How do I stop heart palpitations from anxiety?

To stop heart palpitations from anxiety, as we have discussed you can try implementing relaxation techniques, reducing your stimulant intake, stimulate your vagus nerve, stay hydrated, exercise regularly and eat healthily. 

Can stress and anxiety cause irregular heartbeat?

Yes, stress and anxiety are known to cause irregular heartbeat. This is normally due to feeling anxious or having a panic attack. 

When should I be worried about heart palpitations?

You should be worried about heart palpitations if they make you feel dizzy, cause you to faint, have shortness of breath or you experience chest pain. In this case, then it is advised to seek immediate medical attention to avoid further complications.

What does a heart palpitation feel like?

Heart palpitations feel like your heart is skipping a beat or you feel like the beatings have increased.

You may feel as if your heart is racing, pounding or fluttering and in addition, you may be more aware of your palpitations and even feel them in your throat, chest or neck. 

How do I know if I have heart problems or anxiety?

You can notice your heart palpitations are due to anxiety because they are temporary and are tend to present during certain situations or under the effect of some substances.

In contrast, if you have a heart problem you may experience chest pain, shortness of breath, numbness, weakness or coldness in your arms or legs. 

However, it is important to get medical advice and assessment to rule out if your heart palpitations are due to anxiety or a more serious condition.


Mayo Clinic

Medical News Today 

Anxiety Centre