Jamie A. Decker, MD
Palpitations are the sensation that your heart is beating fast. Your heart beats are generated by your heart's own intrinsic cells as well as by your nervous system and adrenaline that is produced by your body. So when your nervous system is activated or there is a release of adrenaline in your body, your heart starts beating fast. This is why you feel your heart beating faster when you exercise, get scared, or become anxious. Sometimes, the heart may be very sensitive to adrenaline and nervous system inputs and you feel like your heart is beating faster than it should. However, your heart is just doing what it is being told to do and there is nothing wrong with your heart. These feelings may occur if you are dehydrated or do not drink enough fluids throughout the day. Stress and anxiety may also create this sensation. Certain medications and excessive caffeine may also result in normal fast heart beats. Metabolic problems, such as an overactive thyroid can also cause these kinds of heart beats.
It is very common for people to have an occasional extra beat originating from either the top chambers of the heart or the bottom chambers. Children may describe these extra beats as fast or irregular heart beats. These rarely cause any problems and usually do not require any treatment. They often decrease in frequency over time.
Some people can have an abnormal fast heart rhythm that occurs because of abnormal electrical connection in your heart. These are not normal. These often occur at rest. These are an uncommon cause of palpitations in children who do not have congenital heart disease.
These episodes can be extremely brief, lasting several seconds or prolonged, lasting several hours. Other symptoms may occur along with the palpitations, such as dizziness or lightheadedness, chest pain, and trouble catching your breath. These symptoms are common both with normal fast heart beats and abnormal fast heart beats.
If you have recurrent episodes of palpitations, you may be referred to a cardiologist to determine whether your palpitations are concerning. You may be sent home with a monitor that can record your rhythm during your symptoms and transmit it over a phone line. Palpitations due to normal fast heart beats do not require any medications or other testing. They almost always improve over time. Abnormal heart beats may require treatment, consisting of medication or a procedure to eliminate the source of the abnormality. This will be discussed with you by your cardiologist if necessary.