Racing Heart Palpitations Anxiety Symptom
Racing Heart Palpitations Anxiety Symptom description:
Heart palpitations are the feeling of having rapid, fluttering, skipped, and/or pounding heartbeats. You might experience one of these, or have a combination of a few of them, or all of them.
Some people describe this symptom as having their heart rate race faster than normal. Others describe this symptom as having irregular and/or unevenly spaced heartbeats (also described as skipped heartbeats). Others describe this symptom as feeling as though their heart is pounding unusually hard in their chest (also described as thumping or pounding heart).
All of these descriptions are encompassed under the symptom ‘heart palpitations.’
This symptom can come and go rarely, occur frequently, or persist indefinitely. For example, you may feel racing, thumping, or irregular heartbeats once and a while and not that often, feel it off and on, or feel it all the time.
This symptom may precede, accompany, or follow an escalation of other anxiety sensations and symptoms, or occur by itself.
This symptom can precede, accompany, or follow an episode of nervousness, anxiety, fear, and elevated stress, or occur ‘out of the blue’ and for no apparent reason.
This symptom can range in intensity from slight, to moderate, to severe. It can also come in waves, where it’s strong one moment and eases off the next.
This symptom can change from day to day, and/or from moment to moment.
All of the above combinations and variations are common.
These types of symptoms can seem more pronounced when undistracted or when trying to rest or go to sleep.
What causes racing heart palpitations?
While heart palpitations may seem like a cause for concern, most are harmless.
There are many causes of heart palpitations:
- A lack of sleep/sleep disruption
- An electrolyte abnormality - for example, low potassium
- Anxiety, anxiety disorder
- Being out of shape
- Consuming alcohol
- Dietary supplements such as ephedra, ginseng, bitter orange, valerian, or hawthorn
- Hormone fluctuations (due to menstruation, pregnancy, and menopause)
- Ingesting stimulants (caffeine, chocolate, diet pills, energy boosters)
- Lower than normal blood sugar (from not eating regularly)
- Low levels of oxygen in the blood
- Smoking (nicotine)
- Standing up
- Some prescription and over-the-counter medications (including some cold medications that contain pseudoephedrine, asthma drugs, beta-blockers, and anti-arrhythmics, to name a few)
- Some recreational drugs (such as cocaine)
In rare cases, heart palpitations can be caused by an underlying medical condition. Therefore we recommend that you discuss this symptom with your doctor in order to rule out all other causes.
Behaving anxiously activates the stress response. The stress response immediately causes specific physiological, psychological, and emotional changes in the body that enhance the body's ability to deal with a threat—to either fight with or flee from it—which is the reason the stress response is often referred to as the fight or flight response.
Part of the stress response changes include stimulating the heart rate in order to circular blood throughout the body so that it is better equipped to deal with a threat.
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 and/or dramatically, however, the body has a more difficult time recovering, which can result in the body remaining in a semi hyperstimulated state, since stress hormones are stimulants. A body that becomes stress-response hyperstimulated can exhibit similar sensations and symptoms to that of an active stress response. This symptom is an example of why the body can experience symptoms simply from being overly stressed.
How to get rid of racing, irregular, and pounding heart palpitations?
When heart palpitations are caused by apprehensive behavior and the accompanying stress response changes, calming yourself down will bring an end to the stress response and its changes. As your body recovers from the active stress response, heart palpitations should subside and you should return to your normal self. Keep in mind that it can take up to 20 minutes or more for the body to recover from a major stress response. But this is normal and shouldn’t be a cause for concern.
When heart palpitations are caused by persistent stress, it may take a lot more time for the body to recover and to the point where this symptom is eliminated.
Nevertheless, when the body has fully recovered from its overly stressed state, heart palpitations will completely subside. Therefore, anxiety- and stress-caused heart palpitations needn’t be a cause for concern.
You can speed up the recovery process by reducing your stress, practicing relaxed breathing, increasing your rest and relaxation, and not worrying about anxiety- and stress-caused heart palpitations. Sure, they can be unsettling and even bothersome. But again, when your body has recovered from the stress response and/or sustained stress, anxiety- and stress-caused heart palpitations will completely disappear.
For a more detailed explanation about anxiety symptoms including this one, why symptoms can persist long after the stress response has ended, common barriers to recovery and symptom elimination, and more recovery strategies and tips, we have many chapters that address this information in the Recovery Support area of our website.
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Back to our anxiety symptoms and signs page here.
Authors: Jim Folk, Marilyn Folk, BScN. Last updated May 2015.