Penn Heart and Vascular

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Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Why Does My Heart Flutter? The Causes and Dangers of Heart Palpitations

Image of Joshua Stern, MDJoshua D. Stern, MD, clinical associate of medicine and cardiac electrophysiologist at Penn Medicine, discusses what causes heart palpitations and when you should to seek medical attention.

Has your heart ever skipped a beat? Whether it was because you were alarmed or in love, the feeling of your heart fluttering is a common one and does not usually require medical attention.  The sensation of abnormal heartbeats, also known as heart palpitations, happens to most people at some point in their lives.

Common causes of heart palpitations:

  • Intense emotions like anxiety, stress or fear
  • Prescription drugs for asthma, thyroid disease, high blood pressure or cardiac arrhythmia
  • Non-prescription drugs including pseudoephedrine (decongestant), caffeine and nicotine
  • Strenuous exercise
  • Hormone changes
  • Fever
  • Hyperventilation
  • Anemia
  • Overactive thyroid
  • Heart valve disease
But sometimes heart palpitations are a sign of cardiac arrhythmia, a heart rhythm disorder that requires medical attention.

Related: Dominic Tells How He Was Cured of Atrial Fibrillation

Talk to a doctor if your heart palpitations:

  • Are accompanied by a racing heart beat 
  • Last more than a few seconds
  • Occur frequently
  • Have become bothersome

 Seek immediate medical attention if your palpitations are accompanied by:

  • Lightheadedness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • Passing out
Medical therapy is the cornerstone of treatment for arrhythmias. However, some arrhythmias may be cured with catheter-based therapy, or radiofrequency ablation -- many times eliminating the need for medications altogether.  Penn Medicine is considered one of the top centers in the nation for the treatment of cardiac arrhythmia.

Related: Download a Free Guide to Atrial Fibrillation

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