A heart palpitation is the feeling of an irregular beating pattern of the heart. Usually, an episode can last between a second and up to a minute. A palpitation can be categorised into four different types:
- A rapid heartbeat – This is called Tachycardia and accounts for most heart palpitations associated with anxiety.
- Heart ‘skipping’ a beat – very common in most people but people with anxiety are particularly sensitive and prone to it.
- Chest ‘flutters’ – or medically known as a Premature Ventricular Contraction (PVC).
- A slow heartbeat – This is called a Bradycardia.
An anxiety condition and the occurrence of heart palpitations seem to exist almost synonymously. Around 90% of the clients I have worked with have shared complaints of a rapid or distorted heartbeat whilst living with their anxiety condition. It is also extremely common for heart palpitations to exist alongside other symptoms of anxiety, such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome. bloating, exhaustion, insomnia, chest pains, etc.
Further to this, and quite notably, heart palpitations can occur alongside chest pains which can often strike terror into the sufferer. I have found that if an anxiety condition is present, then these two symptoms seem to be mutually exclusive of each other and that the palpitation is actually occurring separately from the chest pain. I have found that chest pain is a result of muscle tension which likes to manifest itself at the core of the body – the higher abdomen. As both symptoms are a common symptom of anxiety, the probability of both happening at the same time is pretty high. Having said this, it would be advised to seek a medical professional’s opinion just in case.
Heart palpitations, quite naturally, seem to be a primary cause for worry for the anxiety sufferer. The heart of course is one of the primary organs that keep us alive, so when we notice something isn’t quite right with it, this inevitably leads to a substantial level of concern. Further to this, the palpitations or ‘chest flutters’ can often act as a focus point for anxious obsession. The irrational need to control or be ‘one step ahead’ of these scary events leads the person to obsess about the rhythm of the heart. This inevitably leads to a perpetual cycle of worry which, in turn, causes more heart palpitations and thus more worry.
Heart palpitations – in most cases – are harmless and act as an offshoot symptom of an anxiety problem. It is important to state that if you do have concerns then you should consult with your General Practitioner / Doctor as this is merely a representation of my opinion. Many of my clients (including myself) have experienced palpitations for years and have found they die down completely when the core of the problem is addressed – the anxiety.
Anxiety causes heart palpitations for several reasons:
Your resting heart rate is higher than usual
Anxiety – as a feeling – can be explained biologically as the release of the chemicals adrenaline and cortisol. These chemicals, alongside lack of sleep and poor digestion, then over-stimulate the nervous system leaving us feeling sensitive and prone to worry. If you are anxious and worrying excessively, then more of these chemicals circulate around your bloodstream causing a loop effect in terms continuous worry and adrenaline. Worry causes the heart rate to increase. Therefore, the more we worry the higher our heart rate becomes. It is no wonder the heart may flutter and palpitate from time to time due to the amount of adrenaline the body has to process.
Sometimes, when the body is ‘out of balance’ due to being put under stress, it can release dumps of adrenaline that the heart has to process quickly. These adrenal dumps are harmless and reduce in frequency and severity when the anxiety itself is dealt with. Many adrenaline dumps lead to panic attacks due to the event being misunderstood. It’s also useful to note that panic attacks themselves often include the rapid beating of the heart due to the amount of adrenaline the body has to deal with at the time.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome and trapped wind
When the body and mind are primarily focused on dealing with the physical and physiological effects of anxiety, the priority order of the body’s functions shifts. Much of the body’s energy is focused on maintaining a ‘fight or flight’ feeling instead of maintaining steady primary functions such as digestion. This is why anxiety causes I.B.S which leads to bloating, constipation, diarrhea, trapped wind, sore rectum and acid reflux. The symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome can cause heart palpitations due to the pressure that builds in the abdomen during digestion. Excess stomach gas and acid can push against the sternum causing pressure against the chest. To compensate for this, the heart sometimes palpitates in order to maintain its function throughout this short term pressure. Further to this, the excess stomach gas can also apply pressure to the Vagas Nerve which has also been linked to heart palpitations.
Anxiety can cause many temporary deficiencies within the body. Over time our electrolyte levels (including blood salts) can lower as well as potassium levels. Imbalanced levels of these have been linked to heart palpitations. Further to this, dehydration has a very strong link to the occurrence of heart palpitations. Certain medication can also alter the processes of the body which can lead to noticeable differences in the rhythm of the heart.
Foods and substances that we ingest can contribute to heart palpitations. Substances such as caffeine, alcohol and high amounts of sugar can all lead to palpitations and chest flutters. Caffeine inparticular stimulates the nervous system. Anxiety also leads to the over-stimulation of the nervous system so I advise all of my clients to lower their caffeine intake. Alcohol also lowers electrolyte levels and essential fats required within the blood and body.
In order to prevent heart palpitations the ultimate goal is to address the anxiety problem. When overall anxiety lowers, so do the symptoms of anxiety such as heart palpitations. Using the knowledge provided in this article the person who is concerned about their palpitations should take time to analyse the reasons where they think their palpitations arise from. This is useful in terms of self assurance that the palpitations, skipping beats or chest flutters are a direct (and harmless) result of an anxiety condition. I advise all of my clients to remind themselves that, when any symptom of anxiety strikes, they are to remind themselves that it is just anxiety. If you can work on your initial reaction to these symptoms then the severity of the worry lessens and also helps detract the mind from obsessing over the symptom and making them worse. This same logic also applies to persistent headaches, I.B.S and chest pains.
In my opinion you needn’t worry about heart palpitations. The anxiety condition seems to be the root cause if it was there to begin with. If one ever occurs just immediately remind yourself that it is harmless. However, I always advocate talking to your doctor just for that extra reassurance.