Heart Palpitations: Causes, Symptoms, When to Seek Help

By: Dr. David M. Gilligan

A heart palpitation is the awareness of your heart beating in your chest. When you can feel or hear your heart racing or pounding, you are experiencing a heart palpitation.  Sometimes it feels like your heart skipped a beat or you feel an extra beat.  Although most people feel this sensation at one time or another, the majority do not feel it on a regular basis. Many people feel their heart beat at times of stress or anxiety or after strenuous exercise and this is normal.  Many people hear their heart beat in their ears at times and this is also normal.

Let’s take a look at the major causes of heart palpitations that are more concerning than just anxiousness or a challenging workout.

The Three Main Causes of Heart Palpitation

PAC’s and PVC's

The first main cause of heart palpitations are arrhythmias that are almost always benign.  These are the sensations that feel like your heart skipped a beat or had an extra beat.

A single extra beat that comes from the top chamber of the heart is known as a premature atrial contraction (PAC). It’s a very common, mild arrhythmia whereby an “extra beat” or “skipped beat” is felt in the heart.

A premature ventricular contraction (PVC) comes from the lower chambers of the heart and is also felt as a skipped or extra beat. Occasionally PVC’s are accompanied by feelings of lightheadedness or dizziness. They are also fairly common. Although uncomfortable, these occurrences are almost never a sign of heart disease.

Supraventricular Tachycardia (SVT)

If your heart suddenly beats very fast for no reason, such as exercise or stress, you may be experiencing SVT.  During an SVT episode the heart's electrical system doesn't work right causing the heart to beat very fast.  The feeling of rapid beating may last from seconds to several minutes. It is usually associated with other symptoms such as dizziness, breathlessness and chest discomfort.  SVT is not life threatening but can be very frightening and troublesome.

Atrial Fibrillation (AFib)

Atrial fibrillation comes from the top chambers of the heart when they lose their rhythm and beat irregularly and fast.  People who have Atrial Fibrillation may not always feel symptoms, although many are aware of the irregular beat and become very fatigued in Afib.  Afib can go on for hours, depending on the type of atrial fibrillation someone is experiencing.  Afib is more common later in life and people often have a history of high blood pressure or other problems. 

When to Seek Help for Heart Palpitations

It turns out that arrhythmias which are dangerous are usually not felt as palpitations. Telltale signs of a more dangerous arrhythmia may include immediately passing out, as your blood pressure drops very suddenly.   Make sure to seek help immediately if you’ve passed out after feeling a heart palpitation, or if you feel symptoms of extreme dizziness with palpitations.

 It’s also a good idea to seek care if you are troubled by heart palpitations on a regular basis.

If you are concerned about your heart palpitations, I encourage you to schedule an appointment with us today.


General Information(804) 288-4827