What are heart palpitations and their causes?
When at rest and without reason, the heart beats faster than usual. We feel what is called heart palpitations. Know its causes, when to be alarmed, and what habits to modify to prevent them.
The heart palpitations can be felt in the chest, throat, or neck. It is an unpleasant sensation as if the heartbeat is too strong and fast. Although in most cases, it is due only to states of anxiety or excessive stimulation (due to consumption of caffeine or other stimulants, certain types of medications, continuous stress). If they occur too frequently, or it takes too long to regain normal heart rate (more than two hours), it is necessary to consult with the doctor.
To understand ourselves better, under normal conditions, the heartbeats between 60 and 100 times per minute; If the heart rate exceeds 100 beats at rest, it is called tachycardia, and when it is less than 60, bradycardia.
Heartbeat rates higher or lower than normal do not necessarily mean that something is wrong. For example, when we do sports, the heart rate increases naturally to meet the need for oxygen of the exercised muscles. Tachycardia or bradycardia are terms used to define the number of beats above or below the resting heart rate.
However, when there is no specific reason and in a state of rest, we should have a frequency between 60 and 100 bpm. We feel that the heart is racing or beats violently. We are experiencing what is known as heart palpitations, in which, unlike tachycardias, there is no apparent or known cause.
How does the heart work?
To understand what problems our heart could have that can manifest with an alteration in heart rate, it is essential to know the basis of its operation.
The heart is the organ responsible for pumping blood throughout the body and comprises four chambers; the upper two are called the atria (right and left), and the lower two are the ventricles (also right and left).
Let’s listen to our heartbeat with a stethoscope. Two beats are differentiated for each pause, the first corresponds to the beat of the atria sending blood to the ventricles, and the second beat, stronger than the previous one, sends the blood to the rest of the body. If we palpate the pulse in the wrist or neck, we usually only differentiate one pulse, which is the ventricles.
Heart rate is the number of beats per minute your heart has. In a healthy adult at rest, this is between 60-80 beats per minute (ppm), although if the person does sports regularly or takes medication to reduce the pulsations, they may be lower.
Causes of heart palpitations
There are many reasons why heart palpitations can occur; Some are physiological. They are a normal response of the body to certain stimuli and are not due to problems caused by the heart, and others can stem from health problems.
Among the physiological causes we have:
- Exercise, which increases metabolism and cardiac response.
- The anxiety, stress, and emotions such as fear activate the organism causing the heart to speed up.
- Consumption of stimulants such as coffee, the nicotine from tobacco, or drugs such as cocaine is also a frequent cause of heart palpitations.
- Some medications have a stimulant component, for example, pills to lose weight or those used to treat asthma, blood pressure, or various heart problems.
- Fever also causes your heart rate to increase.
Medical causes of heart palpitations
At other times, pulses are related to a more serious health problem directly related to the heart, for example:
- Heart diseases such as arrhythmias (abnormal heart rhythm) or malformations in the valves give way to blood between atria and ventricles.
- Abnormal levels of certain components of the blood, such as sodium or potassium.
- Hyperthyroidism, or overactivity of the thyroid gland, leads to the release of more necessary hormones and affects the heart.
- Low levels of oxygen in the blood; in this case, the heart beats faster to meet the demand.
- Hypoglycemia or low blood glucose, a disorder that occurs more frequently in people with diabetes.
- Anemia or iron deficiency is another cause.