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Heart palpitations: keeping up the rhythm!

by Sonia Chartier, on 28 January 2016, Circulation
heart palpitations

co-written by Rick Olazabal, BSc, BN 

The heart has always been symbolic of life, love and courage. While it’s a no-brainer that a beating heart is required to stay alive, some of you may ask why love and courage?

These are things that put is in vulnerable positions—they elicit the “fight or flight” response—in which the body pumps adrenaline into your veins, thus forcing the heart to beat faster and stronger to oxygenate your muscles.

When this happens, we may feel as if our hearts wanted to beat out of our chest, does it not?

What are heart palpitations?

The heart is always beating whether you’re aware of its rhythm or not, and if you don’t believe me, check your pulse (if there’s no pulse, then you may be in trouble!). Most of us wouldn’t think twice about this.

Palpitations, in an otherwise healthy individual, is nothing more than the conscious of awareness of your heart’s contractions. That is, you actually feel your heart fluttering and rhythm. If the rhythm is not regular, then this is known as an arrhythmia (usually associated with palpitations).

What are the causes?

Palpitations may be caused by a variety of things. On the one hand, they can be caused by emotional states, such as anxiety (e.g generalized anxiety disorder, or panic attacks), and other non-cardiovascular conditions, and on the other hand, they can be due to cardiogenic (originating in the heart) factors.

While this is not an exhaustive list, these are some other common conditions that can lead to palpitations:

  • thyroid conditions
  • hypoglycemia
  • drug use (e.g. cocaine)
  • some medications (e.g. beta agonists)
  • electrolyte imbalance (e.g. calcium, potassium, magnesium)
  • caffeine consumption and stimulants (e.g. amphetamine)
  • alcohol consumption
  • tobacco use
  • low iron
  • stress and anxiety

Who is more prone to palpitations?

Those with risk factors predisposing them to changes in their heartbeat are more prone to palpitations. If you live and work in a high-stress environment, and consume large amounts of caffeine, you may be more likely to experience palpitations than an otherwise healthy friend who manages their stress well and does not drink coffee.

If you happen to be a woman with undiagnosed hyperthyroidism, you may be experiencing palpitations. If your iron levels are low (most prevalent in women) you may also experience palpitations. When in doubt, seek advice from a qualified health care provider.

When we should consult a doctor?

You should always go in for routine visits with your physician, nurse practitioner, or licensed naturopathic doctor at least once a year. If palpitations are a recent occurrence, there is no need to worry, but do seek medical advice as soon as possible. Your health care provider will perform a thorough assessment and refer you for an electrocardiogram and/or other studies.

What can be done to help?

If your medical checkup is clear, you may want to consider making slow, but long-lasting lifestyle changes. This may include stress-coping activities. Some people enjoy yoga, meditations, but if this is not for you, you can simply start doing the things you used to love when you were a kid! (It’s no wonder adult colouring books are making a comeback!). Going for a walk always helps too.

Be mindful of the foods and beverages you eat—reduce your caffeine intake and keep a balanced diet high in protein, vitamins and minerals (from your greens).

If stress is a big issue, consider calming herbs like rhodiola, flowing oats, and passion flower—in either tincture form or tea. Some supplements like magnesium citrate or magnesium bisglycinate may be beneficial.

Finally, if it’s a heart “tonic” that you’re looking for, hawthorn has been traditionally used, but remember to always check with licensed naturopathic doctor in order to prevent any unwanted interactions and/or side effects.

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