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Thread: Do you get heart palpitations?

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Nov 2009

    Do you get heart palpitations?

    Here's an article I wrote on how to cope - hope it helps:

    I’ve suffered from heart palpitations for 10 years now, and in that time I’ve learned a lot about them. For me they are the scariest symptom of all, as they can feel like you’re about to drop dead despite what the doctors say about them being benign. I have them every single day. At the height of my health anxiety they affected me to the extent that I was scared to do anything that might set them off, and terrified to be alone in case I had a sudden cardiac arrest. I have learned to cope with these daily palpitations and they no longer stop me from living my life to the full – even though at times they can still cause me to think: ‘is this the end?’ Here are the things I’ve learned about heart palpitations over the past 10 years. I apologise for the length of this article but it’s just something I had to get off my chest:

    They are almost completely random

    For years I searched for a pattern, but it’s now clear to me that there isn’t one. I can get heart palpitations wherever I am and whatever I am doing. Relaxing on a beach, playing tennis or sat on the sofa at home – an episode often comes on suddenly without warning.

    I say ‘almost’ completely random as there are times and situations where I know I am very likely to have palpitations. During vigorous exercise I am almost guaranteed to get some palpitations. Usually these are skipped heart beats (they feel like a skipped beat but it’s actually an extra beat), and they come on during the start of whatever exercise I am doing. If I start jogging from standing I will get them. If I slowly start walking and build up to a jog, I am less likely to get them. I think this is something to do with a shot of adrenaline being released into my body if I suddenly exercise but don’t quote me on this as I’m no medical professional.

    If you get palpitations during exercise don’t Google this because the results will scare you like they scared me. I have had documented arrhythmia on both stress/exercise tests I have had, and neither cardiologist was in the slightest bit concerned by them. Easy for them to say…

    Exercise actually helps

    This seems like a contradiction because I’ve just told you I experience palpitations during exercise. However, once a doctor has given you the OK I think it’s important to return to an exercise regime endorsed by your cardiologist. Here’s why – exercise gives me more confidence in my heart. I avoided football for 8 years due to my health anxiety, palpitations and fear of dying on the field. Now, every time I play not only do I really enjoy it despite the palpitations, every game is a milestone for me because: ‘I didn’t die, and that exercise just made my heart stronger’.

    Exercise is good for the heart and for people with health anxiety it’s excellent for giving you a renewed confidence in your body. I know I get palpitations during exercise so I just expect them and get on with the game when they occur. I trust my cardiologist when he says they won’t kill me.

    Dentists can make them worse

    Going to the dentist is not a pleasant experience for anyone, but those with heart palpitations are in for an even rougher ride. First there is the anxiety of the visit which can increase your palpitations. Then there is the chair – my palpitations are often brought on by positional changes, so going from standing to lying on a dentist’s chair will usually cause an attack. Finally if you need work done they will usually inject an anaesthetic with epinephrine in – this causes my heart to race every time. The key way to cope at the dentist is to realise that even though you are getting palpitations they can’t harm you.

    Don’t Google heart palpitations

    This seems obvious but it was at the very core of my recovery from health anxiety. Stop Googling stuff about your heart because it will only make your anxiety worse in the long run. There was a forum for those with heart palpitations run by a friendly retired MD called RLR who was great at dishing out reassurance whenever it was needed. The problem was that for me it became addictive and I found myself on that forum every single day, sometimes for long periods of time. The reassurance never lasted long and I became obsessed over my palpitations, checking my pulse many many times a day. I would also Google heart palpitations in such detail that I became an expert in the field. So much so that I could reel off acronyms like PSVT and AVRNT that even my doctor hadn’t heard of.

    A session of Googling heart stuff often left me in a dark and miserable place, convinced that my life was about to end in an imminent cardiac arrest and collapse. Dr Google never gives an accurate picture about heart palpitations though. They are seen online as a very serious affliction. Every health website on the net wants to avoid possible litigation when they’re dishing out advice so they always err on the side of caution (get them checked out asap). Certain online newspapers publish scare stories about people who had palpitations and then died. They forget to mention the millions of people who suffer palpitations daily and don’t die, because it doesn’t sell papers or generate advertising dollars.

    Have the tests, but don’t expect to be reassured

    I’ve had the following heart tests:

    - ECG (too many to remember)

    - Exercise (stress) test x2

    - Echocardiogram x2

    - Blood tests to check for heart attack enzymes x4

    - 24 hour (holter) monitor x2

    - 7 day monitor x1

    - Heart MRI x1

    At the time of each of these tests I felt they were absolutely necessary for my survival. I look back now and think that most of them were a waste of time and money. The only things that showed up were right bundle branch block, PVCs, PACs and runs of PACs (up to about 10 in a row, which caused the episodes which really scared me). My cardiologists (plural, I’ve seen a few) have been absolutely nonchalant about all these results – not in the least bit worried. I’ve basically been told: ‘they won’t kill you so get on with your life’. It took me 8 years to finally accept this. For years I went through a pattern of having a test, being temporarily reassured, having more symptoms, thinking something was missed, the test result was wrong, or that something else had developed since the last test. Tests are valuable for ruling out serious heart disease but don’t expect to be reassured by them for long. The key to curing health anxiety and accepting heart palpitations is to stop looking for reassurance and just accept them.

    Try new diets but don’t expect them to work

    When I first started getting PVCs on a daily basis I did what most people do and ran to the nearest internet-connected computer looking for ways to cure them. Looking for a cure can be an absolute minefield of information. Some is helpful and informed, other information is downright dangerous. For example, I read online that potassium can ‘cure’ heart palpitations. So I bought a potassium supplement. It did nothing. I googled potassium and discovered that too much potassium can actually be harmful. Lots of food is potassium rich, like peas, so if you have a decent diet you’re probably getting enough.

    Magnesium is another supplement I’ve tried. Embarrassing as the bottle said ‘women’s health’ on it and I felt obliged to explain to the cashier that they were for my wife. They didn’t do anything either. I’m sure for some people these supplements work, but I wouldn’t expect a miracle cure by changing your diet.

    I’m obviously not qualified to give any dietary or medical advice. All I can tell you is my own experience of living with PVCs, PACs and other heart palpitations for 10 years – different diets have not worked for me. I do however think that a heart-healthy diet is important to your general health. Anyone who has researched palpitations online probably knows that in a ‘normal’ heart without heart disease, palpitations are usually benign. So with this in mind I decided to reduce my risk of developing heart disease by following a heart healthy diet. Plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, limit your red meat, oily fish but not too much, easy on the salt – a varied diet incorporating moderation is key.

    Don’t listen to chart music

    Thought I would throw in a less than serious point here – forgive me! For some reason, artists have increasingly begun to incorporate heart problems into their music. What do you mean, I hear you cry. Demi Lovato has a song in the Top 40 called ‘Heart Attack’ – she thinks she would have a heart attack if she fell in love, and keeps repeating this thought out-loud for 4 minutes. UK artist Olly Murs is seemingly even more obsessed with heart issues. One of his recent songs, Troublemaker, suggests that a troublemaking girl is giving him a ‘heart attack’. Previously he had great success in the UK with ‘Heart Skips a Beat’ where he sings about his heart skipping a beat when his girlfriend ‘holds him like that’.

    The point I’m trying to make is this: if you’re obsessed with your heart, which I used to be and many heart palpitation sufferers are, you pick up on things like this and it only increases the anxiety about your heart. Unfortunately lots of musicians refer to matters of the heart. There’s even a radio station in the UK called Heart FM. I remember driving one day, the word HEART emblazoned across the digital car radio and the song ‘HEART ATTACK’ blaring out of the speakers. Followed by a radio ad for the British Heart Foundation telling us how much of a killer heart disease can be. This stuff doesn’t bother me now, but when I was in the grip of health anxiety it sent me spiralling down into anxiety and obsessive thoughts about my heart palpitations.

    The best thing you can do is to try and see the funny side. Despite the title of this being ‘don’t listen to chart music’, I believe the best tactic is to embrace it, laugh about it, don’t run away from it. Listen to these songs on repeat until they don’t bother you anymore, and you will overcome your fear. This also applies to medical TV shows where actors are regularly clutching their chests and pretending to die of heart attacks. It’s a skewed view of reality and you need to see it for what it is.

    View heart palpitations as turbulence on an aeroplane

    I used to be terrified of flying. It was nothing to do with the fear of dying in a plane crash, it was fear of having palpitations and arrhythmia on the plane, mid-journey, and nobody being able to help me. A plane can’t suddenly get you to a hospital for a cardioversion if you need it. I would get so worked up in the airport before a flight that I would experience severe panic attacks. One time, on the way back from holiday, I started to panic in an airport security queue. My heart started to race and skip, worse than it’s ever raced or skipped before. I felt like throwing up. I popped my last diazepam (at the time I used to take this fairly regularly for my health anxiety) but this seemed to make it worse. I somehow managed to make it to the security gate, white as a sheet. The security staff must have seen how I looked because they searched me three times – I tried to explain that my heart was all over the place but they didn’t speak much English. I got through, walked round the corner and sat down, struggling to catch my breath. It took roughly 10 minutes for my heart to return to normal. Atrial fibrillation? PSVT? Possibly, but there was no ECG handy to catch it. To this day I don’t know how I managed to get on that plane, but I’m glad I did because afterwards I felt good in that I had survived despite experiencing horrendous palpitations. The follow up with my doctor was unhelpful: ‘Probably a panic attack’ he said. I digress.

    Since this episode I have always viewed palpitations as ‘turbulence’. If you’re on a flight, sometimes it can be a bumpy ride. Very bumpy at times. However your plane never crashes. The chance of your plane crashing from turbulence is incredibly low, despite turbulence feeling very unsafe and life-threatening at the time. If you can view palpitations in the same light – scary at the time but very unlikely to cause a serious problem, then you can start to lose some of the anxiety surrounding them. They will always scare you at the exact moment you have them – this is unavoidable, and only people who have experienced heart palpitations can relate to this. You do feel like you’re about to die, especially during a long run of them. However you must try to look at the big picture – if you can cope with turbulence on a plane you can cope with heart palpitations.

    Short-term fixes

    An attack of palpitations can be frustrating because usually by the time it’s over you haven’t even had time to call a doctor. If you do call a doctor after the event, the likelihood is that your ECG will be normal. I have to reiterate that I am not qualified to give any medical advice, I am just telling you what sometimes works for me when I have a sudden episode. Most of these have been passed on to me by various cardiologists over the years

    - Coughing. A deep cough can sometimes bring my heart out of an episode of fluttering. This doesn’t generally work for isolated PVCs or PACs.

    - Changing position. Quite often a change in position brings on an attack of palpitations for me. Usually if I go from standing or sitting to lying down quickly. Even rolling over onto my left side can result in heart flutters. Using this logic I have found that during an episode, a sudden change of position can have the reverse effect and bring my heart rate back to normal.

    - Drinking or eating. Again, these can often precipitate an attack, so I have tried to use them to stop an attack with some success. Drinking is more successful than eating for the short sharp bursts of palpitations. Eating sometimes works if I’ve been having steady runs of PVCs every few beats – sitting down for a meal has occasionally stopped these irregular heart beats. I believe the vagus nerve is somehow involved here but I’m not aware of the science behind it.

    - Antacids. Heartburn and indigestion is a definite trigger for me, so when I control this with antacids (and diet) I tend to get fewer palpitations.

    - Bearing down. This is called the valsalva manoeuvre and can have the same effect as deep coughing to bring my heart out of an abnormal rhythm.

    - Splashing water in face. I’ve tried splashing cold water in my face during palpitations with some success.

    - Resting. When my heart is throwing PVCs or PACs for a longer period of time (occasionally I suffer this every few beats for days on end), I find that resting/sleeping helps. A poor night’s sleep is bound to make my palpitations worse, and the reverse is also true.

    There you go – I sincerely hope that this article helps you to better cope with your heart palpitations as I know first hand how debilitating they can be. I know how desperately unhappy they can make you feel. I believe the key is to get checked out, then trust your doctors and accept that palpitations are a part of your life. They may or may not go away, but you have to have the view that even if they don’t they are not life-threatening and you can cope with them. There are people in the world in far worse situations. We should almost be thankful that what we have is annoying and frightening, but ultimately harmless in the vast majority of cases.

    I would love to hear your own experience with heart palpitations, so please leave a comment below. Thanks for reading!
    "Absolutely the best book I have ever read on health anxiety. It was obvious that the author struggled with this in his own life and has overcome it. That's what gives hope to others who are going through this. Read this book if you are suffering! It will help you!" - Amazon Reviewer

  2. #2

    Re: Do you get heart palpitations?

    Just registered to post a reply.

    This is one of the most helpful things I have read and I want to thank you.

    I am hoping that it can help me - since I read it I have stopped eating peppermints (polos) and stopped drinking tea/coffee - both of which I did a lot. And so far 4 days of no skipped beats. Coincidence? Well I'm willing to give it a try.

    But it's the positivity which I will try and take on board. Especially with regard to sport I totally understand the reluctance to do anything physical... I still do it but the fear of heart attacks is always in my mind...

    Anyway thanks skippy for this.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Apr 2003
    , , United Kingdom.

    Re: Do you get heart palpitations?

    Skippy - moved to the palpitations forum and made "sticky"

    “Don't be afraid of death; be afraid of an unlived life. You don't have to live forever, you just have to live.” - Natalie Babbitt

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  4. #4
    Join Date
    May 2010

    Re: Do you get heart palpitations?

    Hi skippy Thank you for your well informed post. I mainly have palps at night when in bed and what I thought relaxed,but not.I notice I clench my fists when resting on my side my palps also worse on my left side.I have mitro valve prolapse and that make me worry,but I try and stay positive about life and keep active it is only night that I have them.

    Petra x

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Oct 2013

    Re: Do you get heart palpitations?

    Really good post skippy. One thing I wish I had been told at the beginning was that the sensations were indeed real (and not simply anxiety) but rather a very common occurrence and usually completely safe despite feeling scary. That alone would have saved me a year of terror.

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Mar 2010

    Re: Do you get heart palpitations?

    Thank you for this post, everything i read that you have put i can identify to its mad how bad heart palpatations can make us feel ... i thought i was over it but im not as you can tell im back here again searching for i think reassurance more than answers.
    Your post certainly helped xx
    Amanda XX

  7. #7

    Smile Re: Do you get heart palpitations?

    Thank you for this post. I've recently started having palpatations and other complaints, all of which feature on this site.
    I am getting checked out further by the Doctors but it is a slow and frustrating process.
    I related a great deal to your post and it has given me some comfort and made me laugh (I listen to Heart radio!)
    Thanks again

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Sep 2013

    Re: Do you get heart palpitations?

    Hi skippy. Last night i did my 45 min moderate workout. After that i went for a slow running on the road. During jogging there was no problem but when i stopped after jogging to cool down, i suddenly feil that my heart is going to stop. I asked my freind that lets walk for sometime. At that time my vision and mind was in state like everything is going to faint or stop. After just few seconds of walk my heart become normal. I googled about this n i got a story of rugby player who suffered a cardiac arrest in feild during his match. Now i was thinking to tottally stop my workouts n jogging too...

  9. #9

    Re: Do you get heart palpitations?

    Hi Skippy, thanks for your has been very helpful. I have had palpitations for as long as I can remember, I had tests years ago which reassured I wont die. Recently though they have changed, becoming harder, starting during my sleep. They use to be a flutter now they go on forever. I am up now at 230am searching DR google. Your post is right, I will ditch dr Google and see my real dr... and try to sleep knowing I will wake up.
    Many thanks!

  10. #10

    Re: Do you get heart palpitations?

    so glad ive come across this ive been having palps for around 2 years they are ruining my life =( ive been to docs had test had 7 day holter etc but still cant relax and ride them out (doc has said all is ok ignore them!) im sat here now after having them in my sleep kids away for the night on my own was looking forward to a lie in n boom 6am and i feel a bang in my chest followed by several more =( now sat here wanting to cry and waiting for my heart to do the final bang n never beat again! my doc recently put me on beta blockers but im sure they have made my palps worse ive never ever had one at night untill i started taking them (ive been on them now for 2 weeks) due to go back to docs next week dont know why im rambling on really lol im just trying to ease my mind hence registering on here
    hope you all have a great day!

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