Heart palpitations (pal-pih-TAY-shuns) are feelings of having a fast-beating, fluttering or pounding heart. Stress, exercise, medication or, rarely, a medical condition can trigger them.

Although heart palpitations can be worrisome, they're usually harmless. Rarely, heart palpitations can be a symptom of a more serious heart condition, such as an irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia), that might require treatment.


Heart palpitations can feel like the heart is:

  • Beating too fast
  • Flip-flopping
  • Fluttering rapidly
  • Pounding
  • Skipping beats

Heart palpitations may be felt in the throat or neck as well as the chest. They can occur during activity or at rest.

When to see a doctor

Palpitations that are infrequent and last only a few seconds usually don't need to be evaluated. If you have a history of heart disease and have palpitations that occur frequently or worsen, talk to your health care provider. You may need heart-monitoring tests to see if the palpitations are caused by a more serious heart problem.

Seek emergency medical attention if heart palpitations occur with:

  • Chest discomfort or pain
  • Fainting
  • Severe shortness of breath
  • Severe dizziness


Often the cause of heart palpitations can't be found. Common causes include:

  • Strong emotional responses, such as stress, anxiety or panic attacks
  • Depression
  • Strenuous exercise
  • Stimulants, including caffeine, nicotine, cocaine, amphetamines, and cold and cough medications that contain pseudoephedrine
  • Fever
  • Hormone changes associated with menstruation, pregnancy or menopause
  • Too much or too little thyroid hormone

Occasionally heart palpitations can be a sign of a serious problem, such as an irregular heart rhythm (arrhythmia).

Arrhythmias might cause a very fast heartbeat (tachycardia), an unusually slow heartbeat (bradycardia), a heartbeat that varies from a typical heart rhythm or a combination of the three.

Risk factors

Risk factors for heart palpitations include:

  • Stress
  • Anxiety disorder or panic attack
  • Pregnancy
  • Certain medicines that contain stimulants, such as some cold or asthma medications
  • An overactive thyroid gland (hyperthyroidism)
  • Other heart problems, such as irregular heartbeats, structural heart changes, previous heart attack or previous heart surgery


For palpitations caused by a heart condition, possible complications may include:

  • Fainting. If the heart beats rapidly, blood pressure can drop, causing the person to faint. This is more likely in those with a heart problem, such as congenital heart disease or certain valve problems.
  • Cardiac arrest. Rarely, palpitations can be caused by life-threatening heartbeat problems and can cause the heart to stop beating effectively.
  • Stroke. If palpitations are due to a condition in which the upper chambers of the heart quiver instead of beating properly (atrial fibrillation), blood can pool and cause clots to form. If a clot breaks loose, it can block a brain artery, causing a stroke.
  • Heart failure. Certain arrhythmias can reduce the heart's pumping ability. Sometimes, controlling the rate of an arrhythmia that's causing heart failure can improve the heart's function.