Palpitations are rapid, noticeable heartbeats that may be felt in the chest, back or throat. Often, they are associated with a fluttering sensation in the chest or that of the heart skipping a beat. They can occur following exertion or while you are at rest.
Most of the time, palpitations are not a sign of a serious health condition. For instance, caffeine and nicotine consumption can cause palpitations. They can also occur as a result of stress or anxiety, vigorous exercise, a fever, hormonal changes associated with pregnancy or menopause, taking certain medications or the use of illicit drugs such as cocaine. In these cases, palpitations will generally resolve on their own or with changes in behavior — such as drinking less coffee, learning to control anxiety or making adjustments to the medications you take. But palpitations can also be an indication of underlying health issues, including hyperthyroidism (an overactive thyroid gland) and any number of underlying cardiovascular conditions.
In general, if palpitations only last a few seconds and do not occur often, medical evaluation may not be necessary. However, if they occur frequently, the episodes are longer or you have already been diagnosed with a related health condition such as heart disease, diabetes, high cholesterol or high blood pressure, it is important to seek prompt medical attention. Regardless of your medical history, if other symptoms occur with the palpitations, including dizziness, confusion, shortness of breath and chest discomfort, you should seek emergency medical care.
Heart conditions that may be associated with palpitations include valve disorders, congenital defects and arrhythmias. An arrhythmia refers to an abnormal pattern or rate of the heartbeat. Palpitations can be a symptom of a number of arrhythmias, including the most common one, atrial fibrillation.
If you have experienced prolonged or frequent palpitations, you can visit one of Emory’s new heart rhythm screening clinics located throughout the Atlanta area to determine if your condition is serious. The Emory Arrhythmia Center also provides comprehensive, state-of-the-art care for the full range of heart rhythm disorders.
About Dr. Hoskins
Michael Hoskins, MD , is an assistant professor of medicine and electrophysiologist who practices primarily at Emory University Hospital. Dr. Hoskins received his medical degree from the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee, after which he completed his residency in internal medicine at Emory. He was chief resident in Internal Medicine from 2005 to 2006. He then completed fellowships in cardiology and electrophysiology, also at Emory, and has been practicing here since 2010.
About Emory’s Arrhythmia Center
Emory’s Arrhythmia Center is one of the most comprehensive and innovative clinics for heart rhythm disorders in the country. Our electrophysiologists have been pioneers in shaping treatment options for patients with arrhythmias such as atrial fibrillation, as well as for those with congestive heart disease. Our specialized electrophysiology (EP) labs host state-of-the-art equipment, including computerized three-dimensional mapping systems to assist with the ablation of complex arrhythmias, and an excimer laser system to perform pacemaker and defibrillator lead extractions.
Patients with devices, whether implanted at Emory or elsewhere, have access to Emory’s comprehensive follow-up care. Patients benefit from remote monitoring, quarterly atrial fibrillation support groups and 24-hour implantable cardiac device (ICD) and pacemaker monitoring services. Inpatient telemetry and coronary care units, as well as outpatient care and educational support of patients with pacemakers and ICDs, complete Emory’s comprehensive range of arrhythmia treatments and services.