Heart Palpitations

Q. I’m 62 and have had heart palpitations for years….what can you tell me about them, and are they something I should be concerned about? (Chatt Heart Instutute)

A. Palpitations are heartbeat sensations that feel like your heart is pounding or racing. It sometimes feels as if the heartbeat is skipping beats. Palpitations may be felt in your chest, throat, or neck. They may be caused by nicotine, caffeine, stress and anxiety, but often no cause is found. They are often not serious.

It depends, however, on whether the palpitations represent an abnormal heart rhythm (arrhythmia). It is more likely that you have arrhythmia if you have known heart disease, have significant risk factors for heart disease, an abnormal heart valve or an electrolyte abnormality—for example, low potassium.

If you’ve been having heart palpitations for years, you should be seen by your physician to try to determine the cause of your palpitations. When you see your physician, if possible, bring a record of how often you have palpitations, when they happen, how long they last, your heart rate at the time of the palpitations, and what you are feeling at the time. This information may help your doctor figure out how serious your condition is and the underlying cause.

David Salerno, M.D.

The Chattanooga Heart Institute

2501 Citico Ave., Chattanooga, TN