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Emily asked...

I feel a fluttering in my rib cage, could it be heart palpitations?

I am experiencing flutter-like feelings at the end of my rib cage, not in my stomach. What could this be?

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The answer

The fluttering feeling in your rib cage could be heart palpitations.

Heart palpitations are the sensation of your heart beating. Many patients describe a fluttering feeling, or your heart thumping or racing. These don’t usually last too long.

It’s worth checking your pulse at your wrist to see if the timing of the fluttering matches your heart rate. If the fluttering is regular and up to about 100 beats a minute (just under two a second) it’s rarely a cause for concern.

If these fluttering sensations persist or if you have any other symptoms to go with them – such as shortness of breath, lightheadedness or chest pain – you should get it checked out by your doctor.

Causes of heart palpitations

There are a range of causes of heart palpitations. Non-worrying causes of palpitations are more likely to come on when you’re at rest or in bed, as it’s easy to become aware of your heartbeat then.

Common causes of everyday heart palpitations can include:

  • Too much caffeine
  • Intense exercise
  • Sleep deprivation
  • Rich or spicy food
  • Dehydration
  • Taking illegal drugs
  • Alcohol
  • Smoking
  • Excitement or being nervous
  • For women, hormone changes when you’re on your period, pregnant or during the menopause
  • High temperature
  • Stress, anxiety and panic attacks.

Some medications also cause heart palpitations. These can include:

  • Inhalers, such as Ventolin
  • Medication for high blood pressure
  • Antihistamines
  • Antibiotics
  • Antidepressants
  • Fungal medications.

You should check in with your doctor if you think your medication may be causing heart palpitations.

Certain medical issues can also cause palpitations, such as:

  • Heart arrhythmias. These are problems that involve having an abnormal heart beat. For example, supraventricular tachycardia or SVT is where you have a fast (150 beats per minute) but regular heart rhythm. Atrial fibrillation, where you get a fast or irregular heartbeat, is also the most common abnormal heart rhythm in the UK.
  • Heart conditions. This could be a range of issues including heart disease, heart failure or valve problems.
  • An overactive thyroid
  • Low blood sugar, often due to diabetes
  • Anaemia
  • Low blood pressure.

Answered by the Health at Hand nurses  

Further Reading

Heart palpitations - AXA PPP healthcare

How to really love your heart - AXA PPP healthcare

Tech for your ticker - AXA PPP healthcare

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