If you have heart palpitations with severe shortness of breath, chest pain or fainting, you should seek emergency medical attention. If your palpitations are brief and there are no other worrisome signs or symptoms, make an appointment to see your doctor. Your doctor can help you find out if your palpitations are harmless or a symptom of a more serious heart condition.
If you make an appointment with your doctor, it's good to prepare. Here's some information to help you get ready for your appointment:
What you can do
- Be aware of pre-appointment restrictions. When you make the appointment, ask if there's anything you need to do in advance, such as restrict your diet or fast.
- Write down any symptoms you're experiencing, including any that seem unrelated to heart palpitations.
- Write down key personal information, including family history of heart disease, arrhythmias, stroke, high blood pressure or diabetes. Also include major stresses or recent changes in your life.
- Make a list of medications, vitamins and supplements you're taking.
- Take a family member or friend along, if possible. Someone who accompanies you may remember something you miss or forget.
- Be prepared to discuss your diet and exercise habits, including challenges you might face in improving your diet or moving more.
- Write down questions to ask your doctor.
To make the most of your time with your doctor, write down questions to ask. For heart palpitations, some basic questions include:
- What is likely causing my symptoms or condition?
- What are other possible causes?
- What should I do if my symptoms return?
- What tests will I need?
- Do I need treatment and, if so, what?
- What are the alternatives to the primary approach you're suggesting?
- What's an appropriate level of physical activity?
- I have other health conditions. How can I best manage them together?
- Are there restrictions I need to follow?
- Should I see a specialist?
- Is there a generic alternative to the medicine you're prescribing?
- Do you have brochures or other printed material I can have? What websites do you recommend?
Don't hesitate to ask other questions.
What to expect from your doctor
Your doctor is likely to ask you questions, such as:
- When did you begin having heart palpitations?
- Have your symptoms been continuous or occasional?
- Do your palpitations start and stop suddenly?
- Does it seem like your palpitations have a pattern, such as occurring the same time every day or when you do a certain activity?
- Does your heart still beat regularly during the palpitations?
- What, if anything, seems to improve your symptoms?
- What, if anything, appears to worsen your symptoms?
- Are you having other symptoms such as shortness of breath, chest pain, fainting, or dizziness when you have palpitations?
- Have you ever had heart rhythm problems before, such as atrial fibrillation?
What you can do in the meantime
Before your appointment, you can try to improve your symptoms by avoiding activities or stresses that might cause your palpitations. Some common triggers include anxiety or panic attacks, drinking too much caffeine or alcohol, or taking some medications or supplements that contain stimulants, such as energy drinks or some cold medicines.
April 02, 2014
- Zimetbaum PJ. Overview of palpitations in adults. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed Nov. 26, 2013.
- Palpitations. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/dci/Diseases/hpl/hpl_all.html. Accessed Nov. 26, 2013.
- Wexler RK, et al. Outpatient approach to palpitations. American Family Physician. 2011;84:63.
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