How Are Heart Palpitations Diagnosed?
A doctor will first discuss your symptoms and perform a physical exam to diagnose heart palpitations. The doctor will listen to your heart for signs of underlying medical conditions and may ask questions about your medical history.
Blood tests can also be performed to check for anemia, vitamin and mineral deficiencies, abnormal hormone levels, or infections that may cause palpitations. If these tests suggest that an underlying heart condition is causing the palpitations, your doctor will conduct further tests to diagnose the issue.
Diagnostic tests can include:
- Electrocardiogram - Otherwise known as an EKG or ECG, this test provides an easy, painless way for a doctor to check a patient’s heart activity. Electrode sensors are placed on the chest and sometimes the arms and legs. The electrodes are connected to a device that displays results regarding heart activity. It can show if a heart is beating too quickly or too slowly.
- Holter monitoring - A patient wears a portable EKG device that records heart rhythm and rate daily. This device can detect palpitations that did not occur during an electrocardiogram test.
- Event monitor recording - Utilizes a device that can be worn for about a month. The patient presses a button when heart palpitation symptoms arise, causing the device to record heart activity. This is useful if palpitations are experienced irregularly (not daily or weekly).
- Echocardiogram - This noninvasive test does not use radiation to test the heart’s structure and function. A doctor will use a wand-like instrument that emits ultrasound waves to produce computerized images of the heart in motion. This enables the doctor to detect structural or blood flow issues within the heart.
Based on your test results, your doctor may need to perform additional tests such as stress tests, urine tests, or chest X-rays. Chest X-rays use high-energy radiation to produce images of the chest area. They can check the shape and size of the heart and also can detect issues in valves or blood vessels near the heart.
How are Heart Palpitations Treated?
Heart palpitations may not be related to a specific heart condition. If a doctor can rule this out, taking steps to avoid the triggers that cause palpitations might be recommended. These can include certain lifestyle changes such as:
- Reducing stress
- Avoiding stimulants
- Limiting alcohol
- Stopping the use of nicotine/tobacco products
- Regular exercise
- Maintaining healthy blood pressure and cholesterol
- Avoiding recreational drugs
- Avoiding certain foods that trigger your palpitations
While heart palpitations are usually harmless, you should seek medical attention if your palpitations are frequent, last more than a few seconds, or are accompanied by chest pain, difficulty breathing, dizziness, fainting, or atypical sweating.
Heart palpitations can feel like your heart is racing, pounding, or fluttering. These sensations can be experienced in the chest, throat, or neck. It also may feel that your heart is beating irregularly and/or skipping beats.
Heart palpitations usually last a few seconds but can last minutes or even longer. Consult a medical professional if you experience heart palpitations for more than a few seconds, as this may indicate an underlying medical condition.
Foods high in caffeine, sugar, or carbohydrates can cause heart palpitations because they increase blood pressure and heart rate. Foods such as salami, aged cheeses, sauerkraut, and soy sauce can also cause heart palpitations, as they contain tyramine, which increases blood pressure. Dehydration due to low water intake or excessive amounts of sodium can cause electrolyte imbalances that can also bring about palpitations.
Trust NewYork-Presbyterian for Heart Palpitation Treatment
Our team of medical experts at NewYork-Presbyterian have a deep understanding of the symptoms of heart palpitations and can offer the individualized care and treatment you need. Schedule an appointment with one of our experts today.