No one likes an unusual racing or pounding in their chest. And while your heart rate will rise naturally as you age, you should never feel an uncomfortable fluttering from your heart. If you do sense discomfort, there are quite a few triggers for heart palpitations that you probably have no idea about.
From health conditions to daily habits, here’s what you need to know (including the most surprising trigger on page 9).
1. Low potassium
Have you been eating enough bananas and red peppers lately? Oddly enough, too little potassium can cause your heart to beat irregularly. This is because it’s an electrolyte that helps your muscles and nerves function normally — and too little totally affects your heart. Other signs of low potassium include muscle weakness, aches, and cramps, MedicineNet.com explains.
Next: Get rid of this nasty habit immediately.
Cigarettes aren’t just bad for your lungs — they also can severely impact your heart. Livestrong.com notes when you inhale nicotine, it causes your adrenal glands to release adrenaline, the hormone you’re familiar with during times of great stress. Adrenaline affects your blood pressure and rate of breathing. And it can make your heart beat rise by 10 to 25 beats per minute, which can mean serious palpitations for you.
Next: Make sure you’re drinking plenty of water.
If you’re like millions of others, you’re probably not drinking nearly enough water. Health explains dehydration not only causes dark urine, dry mouth, and muscle cramping, but it can also cause your heart to beat irregularly. Also, because dehydration lowers blood pressure and affects your electrolyte levels, this can also cause heart abnormalities. Make sure you’re drinking at least nine cups of water per day to combat this.
Next: If you take this over-the-counter medicine regularly, you should know about the side effects.
They may be particularly helpful during allergy season, but decongestants can also affect your heart. Dr. Shephal Doshi tells Health that some people are particularly sensitive to over-the-counter decongestants, such as Sudafed. And if you’re sensitive, you could experience heart palpitations. Take note that if you’ve been diagnosed with any sort of heart condition, like an arrhythmia, decongestants could pose a health risk.
Next: If you’re lacking in this nutrient, your heart rate is likely to get erratic.
5. Iron deficiency
If you’re not considering your iron intake (especially by the time you turn 50), you’re doing yourself a serious disservice. Livestrong.com explains this mineral is vital in keeping your body functioning normally, especially your cells. But when your red blood cells aren’t as healthy as they could be, they become starved of oxygen. This makes the heart work even harder to function normally, causing palpitations.
Watch for other symptoms of iron deficiency as well, like hair loss and fatigue.
Next: This tiny gland can affect your heart rate.
6. Overactive thyroid
You know your thyroid helps your metabolism stay healthy. But it also has a profound impact on your heart. Everyday Health reports when your thyroid produces too many hormones, it can cause a rapid or irregular heartbeat. It can also lead to dizziness, confusion, or feeling faint.
Weight loss, difficulty falling asleep, and mood swings are all signs of an overactive thyroid as well. Be sure to ask your doctor to give this gland a check at your next appointment if you’re noticing any strange symptoms.
Next: Anti-stress techniques can help your heart beat normally, too.
7. Stress and anxiety
Feeling stressed? You may notice a racing heart as well. HealthCentral notes heart palpitations are commonly associated with high anxiety and stress levels.
If you feel constantly under pressure, it’s important to learn how you can effectively manage this uncomfortable symptom. Deep breathing exercises, meditation, and regular exercise can all be helpful in anxiety management. And of course, if you feel like you may have an anxiety disorder, seek help from a medical professional to learn about your options.
Next: Women over 50 need to pay particular attention here.
There are plenty of uncomfortable symptoms that come along with menopause — and for up to 40% of women, a pounding heart is one of them. Gynecologist David Portman tells Everyday Health an irregular heartbeat is more common among menopausal women than you think. And the fluctuation in hormone levels is likely the cause.
If the palpitations during menopause are a major bother, Portman recommends avoiding other things that can exacerbate the problem, like smoking or spicy foods.
Next: This one’s strange, but it can totally affect your heart rate.
9. Exposure to heavy metals
If you’ve ever worked in construction or in an industrial setting, you’ll want to pay attention. Health explains exposure to certain metals regularly, like mercury or cadmium, can lead to a variety of heart-related problems, including palpitations. This is because the metals mess with your electrolytes, which have a direct connection to your heart rate. Not only that, but heavy metal exposure can lead to inflammation and blood clots, too.
Next: This health issue can wreak havoc on your body.
10. Low blood sugar
While many have to worry about their blood sugar levels being too high, you should also be careful that they don’t drop too low. Healthline explains your cells don’t have enough energy to function when your blood sugar drops below normal levels. This can eventually cause serious complications, like mood changes, visual disturbances, or even seizures. It can also cause a rapid, uncomfortable heartbeat.
If you think low blood sugar may be an issue for you, ask your doctor about getting a blood glucose test.
Next: Exercise is good, but you may be overdoing it.
11. Exercise that’s too strenuous
You may not be getting as much exercise as you were back in your 20s, but you’re probably still striving to get your daily movement in. With that said, you should make sure your cardio workouts aren’t too intense. Livestrong.com explains extreme cardio can put a ton of stress on your heart, and it can increase your anxiety levels if you perform it too often.
Want to know where your heart rate should be during exercise? Subtract your age from 220 to find your maximum heart rate, and aim to hit below that when you’re working out.
Next: If you’re eating differently than normal, this can have an effect.
12. Changing up your diet
We’re all trying to be a little healthier these days. And it’s possible a dietary overhaul can affect your heart rate, too. Cardiologist Nicole Weinberg tells Self that many of her patients report heart palpitations after they eat a lot of a certain type of food, such as dairy or gluten. Or, if they’re eating at irregular times, that can also affect what their heart is doing. And keep in mind your diet has everything to do with your blood sugar, too, which you now know can change up your heart rate.
Next: Do you know if your medications cause palpitations?
13. Certain prescription medications, like asthma inhalers
Your medications are there to help your health, but they can also cause some uncomfortable side effects. Asthma inhalers, in particular, are known for causing heart palpitations, too, explains eMedicineHealth.
That doesn’t mean you should stop your asthma medication altogether if you are experiencing chest discomfort, however. Be sure to ask your doctor about possible alternatives if any of your medications are giving you a skipped heartbeat sensation or a fullness in your chest.
Next: You can buy these in the grocery store, but beware.
14. Dietary supplements and vitamins
Daily vitamins are good, and your doctor may even recommend them as you get older. But Livestrong.com notes certain ones are known for how they can affect your heart rate. An excessive amount of vitamin D, for example, can give you palpitations. And Daily Mail Online notes thousands head to the hospital every year due to dietary supplements affecting their heart. Weight-loss supplements are especially known to cause issues.
Next: Sometimes palpitations are more dangerous than they initially seem.
15. Heart conditions
Typically, heart palpitations aren’t a huge deal. But in some instances, they can signal a bigger issue stemming from your heart. Johns Hopkins Medicine explains heart disease can cause an uncomfortable beating, and so can abnormalities with your heart valves.
As you age, it’s important to get your heart checked out annually. Heart disease is still the leading cause of death in the U.S., so pay attention to any symptoms you may have and get them addressed ASAP.
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