If you notice palpitations during pregnancy, should you be concerned? Palpitations are the sensation that your heart is pounding, thumping too quickly or beating irregularly. People describe this sensation in various ways. Some describe it as a feeling that their heart is “fluttering” or thumping in their chest. If you have palpitations, you may also feel like your heart skips a beat on occasion.
It’s not uncommon for normal, healthy people who aren’t pregnant to have heart palpitations. Yet, palpitations can become more frequent when you’re pregnant for a number of reasons. One is the fact that the volume of fluid in your vessels increases during pregnancy as a means of delivering more oxygen and nutrients to your growing baby. Your heart also adapts to pregnancy in other ways that increase the risk of palpitations. In addition, pregnancy can be a stressful time and stress can sometimes bring on palpitations or make them worse.
When Should You Be Concerned
Although most heart palpitations during pregnancy aren’t serious, it’s still important to get them evaluated by a health care professional. This is especially true if you’ve never had them before. Heart palpitations can occasionally be a sign of a medical problem, such as an overactive thyroid or anemia. They can also rarely be a sign of a heart problem. Certain “red flag” signs indicate that you should get palpitations evaluated right away. These include palpitations associated with lightheadedness, fainting, chest pain, or shortness of breath.
When you visit your doctor for palpitations, they will likely do a heart tracing called an electrocardiogram and may recommend other studies to be safe. They may also ask you to wear a Holter monitor for a few days to record any abnormal beat or rhythm. More than likely, the results will indicate that you have nothing to worry about. The palpitations you’re experiencing are more a nuisance than a health risk.
How to Deal with Palpitations
Palpitations are annoying and sometimes frightening, especially if you focus on them. Once you’ve gotten the clearance from your doctor that nothing more serious is going on, here are some things you can do to keep them in check:
Avoid caffeine and other stimulants, like nicotine. Caffeine is a known contributor to heart palpitations. Remember, caffeine is in a variety of beverages, including coffee, tea, energy drinks, and soft drinks. Some medications also have stimulant activity. Ask your doctor about this.
Stay active. Taking a walk or doing other activities takes your mind off of the palpitations and, in some types of palpitations, temporarily reduces them. Talk to your doctor before starting an exercise routine if you have heart palpitations.
Find outlets for stress. Pregnancy is rewarding but with so many bodily changes, it’s also stressful. Find ways to relieve stress, whether it be meditation, yoga, or deep breathing exercises.
Don’t eat large meals. Eating a big meal can worsen heart palpitations for some people. Eat smaller meals throughout the day.
The Bottom Line
Heart palpitations can be frightening, especially if you have them frequently. Once you’ve seen your doctor and know they’re not serious, you can relax and know it’s a minor inconvenience that goes along with being pregnant.
Heart. 2007 Dec; 93(12): 1630–1636.
WebMD. “Heart Palpitations”