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Anxiety Symptoms Explained

Heart Palpitations


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.



The Collins English Dictionary describes palpitate as:

1. (of the heart) to beat with
    abnormal rapidity.

2. to flutter or tremble.


Latin 'palpitare'  to throb, from 'palpare'  to stroke.


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(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 breath ---

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 pumps.


Physical anxiety symptoms result from the body re-directing resources to the major muscle groups (legs / arms / chest) to provide them with an energy boost to prepare us for action (ultimately to fight or flee).

* Our breathing becomes more rapid to get more oxygen for these muscles into the blood.
* Our heartbeat speeds up to get the blood to the muscles quicker.
* Blood is diverted from the brain (making us light-headed and dizzy) and the stomach (causing 'butterflies').
* Energy cannot be wasted processing any half-digested food in our system so we need to get rid of it quickly - either through the mouth (feelings of nausea) or the other end (wanting to go to the toilet).
* Other 'energy-wasting ' systems (unnecessary in time of danger) are shut down eg. saliva production, giving us a dry mouth and difficulty swallowing.
* We sweat more to cool down all this energy production.
* The energy boost to the muscles makes them 'jumpy'/ 'jittery'/ 'jelly-like'/ on-edge ready for action.

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).

Although a speeding heart and missed beats due to anxiety don't seem to be harmful in themselves, long-term anxiety can lead to a whole host of physical illnesses and should be treated.




See also:-  Free Anxiety Symptoms eBook

Anxiety Symptoms: What's Happening and Why


Essential information for anyone experiencing anxiety-related symptoms. It is totally free to read on-screen, download and print – no personal details required. ›› More Details




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