What is a Heart Palpitation?
Almost every anxiety sufferer at some point experiences sensations and differences in the rhythm of the heart. Heart palpitations are a sudden fast beating of the heart that seems to occur either unexpectedly, after some form of physical exertion, or triggered by a negative thought. They can happen as frequently as every day, every week or just once in every while. Heart palpitations can also present themselves as a fluttering sensation in the chest and sternum area and also the feeling that your heart has ‘skipped a beat’.
Heart palpitations can happen to anyone and usually pass unnoticed to the majority of people. However, they can intensify and increase in frequency when they’re considered a problem by the common anxiety sufferer. The process of worrying about heart palpitations creates a catch 22 situation; the more we worry about the palpitations specifically, then the more frequently they seem to occur.
Heart Palpitations and Anxiety
The link between worrying specifically about the palpitations and the frequency of them isn’t mutually inclusive, but when we do persistently worry about them we are easily lead into states of hyperawareness because we fear them occurring again. We succeed in noticing and living through every noticeable change in the rhythm of the heart – even those that are natural and occur every day in almost everybody.
This is called being left in a state of apprehension, which causes our bodies to become tense and we’re ultimately left in an irrational state of hypersensitivity waiting for the next palpation/flutter/skipping a beat to happen again.
There are various reasons why differences in the rhythm of the heart can occur. Heart palpitations, chest flutters and temporary irregular beating are found to be very common with anxiety and are almost certainly not a sign of a serious heart condition (please see a health professional if you have doubts). There are many causes that trigger a heart palpitation, not all of which can be identified prior to a palpitation occurring. Some of the most common causes are down to:
11 Causes of Heart Palpitations
- A surge of released adrenaline
- An electrolyte imbalance
- Hormonal changes
- Too much oxygen
- Physical exertion
- Change and fluctuations in blood pressure
- Anxious thoughts
- Diet factors e.g. caffeine, sugar intake, nicotine
- Periods / Menstrual cycle
I used to suffer from palpitations on a daily basis and over time they began to calm down when I began to focus on my initial reaction to them. I taught myself that they weren’t going to cause me any harm and that although they were scary, it was ultimately down to factors associated with my anxiety that were causing them. To help further my aim I changed my diet, quit smoking, cut out caffeine and drank more water.
I notably found through my research and the collaborative views of others that all of the causes listed above are all linked in some way to being anxious – either physically or psychologically. Firstly, stress and anxiety often cause us to make drastic changes to our diet. It’s common for an anxiety sufferer to search for ‘escapes’, or temporary relief through things such as alcohol, fatty comfort foods and smoking. We are perhaps lead to eating drastically more or considerably less and our water intake maybe differs from our usual consumption. Diet factors, stress, medication and dehydration can all make differences to our blood pressure, which in turn causes further noticeable changes in our bodies including changes in the rhythm of the heart.
Our electrolyte levels are altered by the physical symptoms of anxiety, physical exertion, lack of nutrients from our diet and dehydration. We lose electrolytes through our sweat – either through exercise or sweating when we’re anxious or panicking. An electrolyte imbalance is often a cause for palpitations to occur, which can be fixed with an improved diet and adequate hydration. Then of course the most common cause of heart palpitations in anxiety sufferers are the surges of adrenaline that seem to occur at any time of day. An adrenal and hormonal imbalance directly affects the heart rate, but is actually harmless and becomes less frequent when the sufferer comes to terms with the condition.
Chest flutters aren’t always linked with the heart and are often misinterpreted as the heart ‘fluttering’ or beating quickly. Acid reflux, trapped wind, I.B.S and indigestion often release gastrointestinal gases and create excess stomach acid, which can apply pressure to the chest and sternum area causing a ‘fluttering’ affect. This will be explained further later on under Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Flutters can also be mistaken for spasms in the chest muscles, which are another very common symptom of anxiety.