In romance novels, a fluttering of the heart usually means true love. In real life, the sudden sensation of your heart racing and pounding in your chest can be frightening enough to send you scrambling to call 911.

What’s behind heart palpitations, and how serious are they?

The human heart normally beats at a rate of 60–100 times a minute. A heart rate of over 100 beats per minute is called tachycardia, a condition that may be serious.

But in most cases, a racing heart is of little concern. Common causes include stress, excessive caffeine, strenuous exercise, fever, hormone changes (connected with pregnancy, menstruation, or menopause), diet pills and some cold medications, or drug use.

If you feel your heart pounding, try to relax with some deep breathing or relaxation exercises. If such attacks are frequent, keep a record so you can discuss them with your doctor.

On the other hand, if your heart palpitations are accompanied by chest pain, shortness of breath, dizziness, or loss of conscious, seek emergency medical attention right away.

Palpitations can be a symptom of a more serious condition, such as hyperthyroidism or arrhythmia. Check with a doctor promptly.

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