Heart Palpitations, Anxiety and Panic
A speeding heart is one of the defining symtoms of anxiety. We cannot be anxious with a calm, slow-beating heart.
To most people heart palpitations mean strong, fast heart beats, a fast heart rate... something we can easliy associate with anxiety and panic.
However, heart palpitations also refer to missed or skipped beats.
For the most part heart palpitations are harmless but it is very important to have any symptoms checked by a medical professional to rule out physical causes that
may be serious.
The Causes of Heart Palpitations
Palpitations may be warning signs for heart disease, an over-active thyroid or due to certain prescription medications. Problems that require medical attention.
---Call a doctor immediately if you experience palpitations along with chest pain, loss of consciousness or shortness of
Non-serious heart palpitations may occur due to external things we take such as: caffeine, nicotine and illegal drugs or may result from vigourous exercise. These are a direct result of
something we take or do, are usually less frequent and don't indicate anything serious.
The third catagory, whilst not serious in the sense of indicating physical illness, generally occur more frequently, involve both speeding heart and missed beats and reflect an underlying
problem that needs attention.
... These are heart palpitations caused by anxiety and panic.
The Effects of Anxiety and Panic
Every year in the United States and the UK tens of thousands of people visit hospital emergency wards fearing they are having a heart attack... only to discover they
were having an anxiety or panic attack. The strong, rapid heart beat genuinely made them fear the worst.
Why does our heart speed up so?
Anxiety and panic prepare us to deal with danger, either to fight or run away (the 'fight-or-flight' response). The heart beats faster to pump oxygen (fuel) more quickly to the major muscle
groups (arms, legs, chest) to provide them with an energy boost for fighting or fleeing. The greater the danger, the quicker we need energy to take action so the faster the heart
With long-term anxiety and stress our heart generally beats faster than normal. And it doesn't take much for it to increase into the first stages of panic (a harder, faster beat) which we
notice as heart palpitations.
This also explains the 'skipped beats' phenomenon: A heart that is continuously beating faster than normal will occasionally miss a beat in order to correct the pace.
What to do About Heart Palpitations...
1. Visit a medical doctor for a physical examination to rule out physical causes.
...Once these have been ruled out...
2. Remove any possible external sources:-
• Drink less tea and coffee.
• Stop smoking.
• Don't take illegal drugs.
• Reduce / eliminate processed foods from your diet.
3. Deal with any long-term anxiety and stress. Things that can help include:-
• Learn to relax – practice relaxation techniques.
• Learn to meditate.
• Exercise steadily and regularly.
• Consider the occasional use of calming teas (eg.Chamomile Tea) and herbs
(eg. Valerian Root).
The Collins English Dictionary describes palpitate as:
1. (of the heart) to beat with
2. to flutter or tremble.
Latin 'palpitare' to throb, from 'palpare' to stroke.
Medline Plus (USA)
Anxiety Disorders Book