If your heart is beating too hard or too fast, if it seems to be fluttering, or if it seems to skip a beat, you may be experiencing heart palpitations. They can be felt in your throat, neck, or chest. Although they may be quite frightening, they are usually not something you need to worry about and often disappear after some time. In rare instances, however, palpitations are due to a more serious problem, in which case professional attention is necessary. It is therefore important to consult with your primary medical doctor to rule out more serious heart palpitation causes.
The most common heart palpitation causes that are related to a serious heart condition include:
With so many causes of heart palpitations, it is vitally important that you be in tune with your body or work with a professional who is able to examine your symptoms and history to identify the root cause.
Many people feel these palpitations at night. This may be due to it being the time of day when people try to relax but instead start thinking about the stressful conditions they encountered that day or will be encountering the next. This is also the time of day that most people tend to drink stimulants such as alcohol or take prescribed medication. These are factors that can lead the heart to beat erratically or simply make you more aware of it. Additionally, a large, heavy meal at night can also cause palpitations because the heart needs to work harder at getting blood to the stomach to digest the food.
When you are under stress of any sort, the body responds in ways that should help you to handle it. This is done by automatically activating the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. The brain releases hormones that indicate to the adrenal glands that they should release cortisol. The hormone cortisol, in its turn, stabilizes blood sugar, reduces inflammation, and most importantly, reduces stress.
The NeuroEndoMetabolic (NEM) Stress Response system is responsible for handling stress in your body. One particular pathway, the cardionomic pathway, is regulated by the adrenal glands, heart, and autonomic nervous system (ANS). The adrenals are also part of the HPA axis, and when the body is submitted to a prolonged period of stress of any kind, the entire HPA axis—including the adrenal glands—works harder than it should. The brain releases hormones that indicate to the adrenal glands that they should release cortisol. The hormone cortisol simultaneously stabilizes blood sugar, reduces inflammation, and reduces stress. At some point, the adrenal glands wear out from continuously pumping out hormones, leading to what’s known as adrenal fatigue.
Once this happens, the cortisol levels in your body start dropping and stress becomes increasingly difficult to handle. In order to cope with this, the body releases two hormones, norepinephrine and epinephrine, from the ANS. The release of norepinephrine often causes anxiety in the brain; this is a survival mechanism that warns you to stay focused and alert in the face of stress. When there is an overflow of norepinephrine, however, it increases the heart rate and can cause palpitations. This often becomes more and more common as Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome (AFS) advances and the NEM Stress Response spirals out of control.
Aldosterone, another hormone produced by your adrenal glands, helps balance the ions in your cells, most notably potassium and sodium. This balance is a major part of blood pressure regulation. With heightened stress, more aldosterone is released, which in turn leads to water retention and high blood pressure, as well as the loss of magnesium and potassium. A lack of potassium causes a number of pathological conditions, including cardiac arrhythmias (heart palpitations). The opposite can be true as well: as aldosterone decreases in your body during advanced stages of AFS, blood pressure will start to drop. In response, your heart will have to beat faster, and this, once again, may lead to heart palpitations. If this remains unresolved for a long time, the sympathetic nervous system may be activated, leading to the release of norepinephrine and adrenaline, both of which trigger heart palpitations. Heart palpitations may present as skipped beats at first. In severe cases, this can progress to premature ventricular contractions ( PVC) and atrial fibrillation.
Depending on the cause of heart palpitations, there are a number of modalities to help naturally resolve this symptom.
Some general suggestions include the following:
If the heart palpitations stem from an autonomic derangement, it is very important to de-stress, calm the body, and heal the adrenals. Once this occurs, the autonomic nervous system will no longer fire as frequently and heart palpitations will start to decrease. Adrenal breathing exercises are great in the short term to help calm the body and reduce stimulation.
If the heart palpitations are a result of fluid and electrolytes, then it is important to maintain a steady blood pressure and take in the proper electrolytes. Drinking salt water is often a simple remedy that can help balance the body and reduce heart palpitations. However, consult with your doctor before proceeding if you have any blood pressure issues or are on a salt-restricted diet.
Heart palpitations may be the symptom of something else in your body that is not functioning properly. It is important to consult with your primary medical doctor, as cardiovascular symptoms are never a joking matter. If everything has come back negative, it may be time to look at possible hormonal or stress-related causes, including adrenal fatigue and NEM derangement.
© Copyright 2016 Michael Lam, M.D. All Rights Reserved.