Heart Palpitations in Pregnancy

Symptoms, Causes, Treatments, Complications, and Tips

Pregnant woman talking to her doctor

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In This Article

Your body goes through many changes during pregnancy. Pregnancy hormones and a growing uterus cause a variety of well-known pregnancy symptoms such as morning sickness, fatigue, and frequent urination. However, pregnancy also affects other areas of your body like your circulatory system (your heart and blood supply). Some women don't notice the changes, but others experience new symptoms, including the emergence of heart palpitations. 

Overview

Studies show that heart palpitations are common in pregnancy. Some women will experience heart palpitations for the first time during pregnancy. Others get them before they become pregnant, and continue to feel them throughout pregnancy.

Heart palpitations during pregnancy are usually harmless, but they can sometimes be a sign of a problem. Here’s what you need to know about the symptoms, causes, treatment, and complications of heart palpitations during pregnancy.

Symptoms

Heart palpitations are a sensation or feeling that your heart is not beating normally. You may become hyperaware of your heartbeat and feel like your heart is: 

  • Fluttering 
  • Having extra beats
  • Not beating in a regular rhythm  
  • Pounding or flopping 
  • Racing or beating very quickly
  • Skipping beats

You can feel heart palpitations in your chest, but you can also experience them in your neck and throat.

Causes

Your heart works harder during pregnancy, making palpitations more likely, particularly because: 

  • You are carrying extra weight.
  • Your heart has to pump 40% to 50% more blood.
  • Your heart beats up to 25% faster.

However, heart palpitations can have other causes such as: 

  • Anemia (not enough red blood cells)
  • Certain medications, including cold medicines and herbal remedies
  • Dehydration
  • Excessive exercise
  • Extreme stress or anxiety
  • Heart condition
  • Low blood sugar
  • Overactive thyroid
  • Too much caffeine
  • Other medical issues

Diagnosis

Be sure to tell your doctor about any circulatory symptoms you are experiencing at your prenatal check-ups. Your doctor can determine if what you’re experiencing is normal or if it needs to be checked out further. They'll usually begin by reviewing your medical history and talking to you about any heart conditions in your family in addition to a physical exam that includes taking your pulse and listening to your heart. 

Since palpitations come and go, your doctor may not get to examine you while you have them. You can help the doctor by keeping track of your palpitations prior to your consultation: 

  • When do they start? 
  • How do they feel?
  • How long do they last? 
  • Do you have other symptoms such as sweating or dizziness?
  • What are you doing when they start?
  • What helps them go away?

Depending on the outcome of the exam, your doctor may also order: 

  • Blood tests to look for anemia or other causes 
  • An electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG) to check the electrical activity of your heart and identify an irregular heartbeat or arrhythmia
  • An echocardiogram or ultrasound to check the parts of the heart and how they are working
  • A chest x-ray to look at the lungs and heart for possible causes
  • A heart monitor that is attached to you for a day, a week, or more to catch palpitations or irregular heartbeats

Treatment

The treatment for heart palpitations depends on its cause and symptoms. When palpitations are related to pregnancy, they do not necessarily require treatment. Your doctor may just monitor your symptoms and ask you to keep track of your palpitations.

If your doctor feels you do need treatment, they will treat you in the safest way possible while you are pregnant. They may:

  • Refer you to a thyroid doctor (endocrinologist), heart doctor (cardiologist), and high-risk pregnancy doctor (perinatologist)
  • Safely treat any underlying medical condition such as anemia or an overactive thyroid
  • Prescribe medicine for palpitations and heart rhythm disorders

More severe cases are rare, but other treatments, such as cardioversion, are also safe during pregnancy.

Dealing With Heart Palpitations

Heart palpitations can come on suddenly when you’re active or resting, which can be frightening and cause anxiety. However, when you know what causes them and how to cope, you’ll be better prepared to deal with them.

Coping Strategies

Here’s what you can do when you feel your heart racing or pounding in your chest or throat:

  • Stop what you’re doing.
  • Sit down and rest if you were active.
  • Get up and move around if you were resting. 
  • Try some relaxation techniques, such as meditation and deep breathing.
  • Try pregnancy yoga or prenatal stretching to relieve stress. 
  • Have a glass of water.
  • Grab a snack.

Prevention Tips

These strategies may help prevent palpitations:

Complications

Most of the time, heart palpitations do not lead to any complications during pregnancy.

A healthy heart can deal with the extra blood and faster heartbeat that comes along with pregnancy, but if you had a heart condition before becoming pregnant, pregnancy can make it worse. 

Complications of heart disease affect 1% to 5% of pregnancies. If you have a heart issue, your pregnancy will likely be classified high-risk and your provider will work in conjunction with your cardiologist to monitor your heart health throughout your pregnancy.

If you have a severe heart condition, the extra strain pregnancy puts on the heart can lead to:

  • Pulmonary edema (fluid in the lungs)
  • Abnormal heart rhythms
  • Stroke
  • Death

When to Call the Doctor

While most of the time palpitations aren’t a cause for worry, in a small percentage of women, they could be a sign of something more serious. Call your doctor or go to the emergency if: 

  • You have palpitations often.
  • The palpitations are lasting longer or getting worse.
  • You also feel dizzy, lightheaded, or feeling faint.
  • You are short of breath or have trouble breathing.
  • You have chest pain.
  • You just don’t feel right.

A Word From Verywell

Most people don’t think about their heart beating as they go about their day. So, if you feel your chest pounding, your heart skipping beats, or your neck fluttering, it can definitely stop you in your tracks. Heart palpitations can be scary, but the good news is that they're pretty common during pregnancy and usually not harmful to you or your baby. 

Of course, while it’s rare, palpitations can be a warning sign of a more serious issue. So, always talk to your doctor about your pregnancy symptoms and call if you’re ever worried. Learning about what’s normal and what’s not can also help you feel more confident as you deal with palpitations during pregnancy.  

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Article Sources
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