We have already covered the definition of heart palpitations in the last post, so now would be a good time to talk about the causes of our heart palpitations. Knowing what may be causing our heart palpitations goes a long way to figuring out what will help manage or cure them.
This is where I made a big mistake. When I first got heart palpitations, I panicked. I went to the ER where they did some basic tests and found nothing wrong. I went straight home and googled “how to cure heart palpitations.” But I had skipped a step. I was looking for a cure without knowing the cause. It was like having a broken down car and googling “how to start a car that won’t work.” There are a number of reasons a heart will palpitate. Not every situation is the same and trying each possible solution is time consuming and potentially can make matters worse. So before we go into the possible cures for heart palpitations, it’s important to understand the different causes of heart palpitations.
Generally the causes of heart palpitations can be grouped into six main categories:
- An Electrolyte Deficiency, Imbalance, or Disorder. Electrolytes refer to minerals in our body that include: calcium, chloride, magnesium, phosphate, potassium, and sodium. If any of these minerals get off balance (too much or too little) then our body is negatively affected and our heart can get off rhythm (i.e heart palpitations)
- An overactive thyroid (Hyperthyroidism) – This is where your thyroid gland produces too much of the thyroid hormone, which accelerates your body’s metabolism resulting in a rapid or irregular heartbeat, nervousness, or irritability.
- An over stimulation of the Parasympathetic Nervous System. These nerves control and regulate our internal organs and glands (particularly the functions of digestion, defecation, urination, salivation, and sexual arousal.) Inappropriate stimulation of these nerves (particularly the Vagus Nerve which runs through the stomach and heart) can be caused by:
- Stress and Anxiety, which elevates the levels of Cortisol in the body (Cortisol supports a variety of cardiovascular functions in our body).
- Gastrointestinal distress such as bloating, indigestion, or acid reflux
- Alkaline Deficiency
- Muscular imbalances and/or poor posture, which can also irritate the vagus nerve
- An over-activation of the Sympathetic Nervous System (The fight or flight nerves) – This over stimulation can be the result of many things but often by:
- Panic Disorders
- Mitral valve prolapse
- An increase in circulatory volume (Hyperdynamic Circulation). There are a number of causes for increased circulatory volume, but the main causes are
- Strenuous Exercise
- A cardiac dysrhythmia (an irregular heartbeat). We discussed the difference between an irregular heartbeat and palpitations last post, but by way of a reminder: an irregular heartbeat can cause heart palpitations, but obviously not all palpitations are caused by an irregular heartbeat. Some types of dysrhythmias include: premature atrial contractions (PACs), premature ventricular contractions (PVCs), atrial fibrillation (A-Fib), supraventricular tachycardia, ventricular tachycardia, and ventricular fibrillation.
For me, it was difficult to diagnose the cause of my heart palpitations. I was in denial about my anxiety and stress, and I never put much thought into what I ate or how I sat at my desk at work. So I finally narrowed it down to a few things by process of elimination.
So what about you? What do you think is the cause of your heart palpitations?