Caffeine is a naturally occurring substance found in a number of plant sources including coffee beans, cocoa beans, tea leaves and kola nuts. Caffeine remains in the coffee, chocolate, tea and colas made from these plants unless it's been removed through a decaffeinating process. Consuming caffeine is associated with heart palpitations, or an irregular heartbeat.
An arrhythmia is an abnormal heartbeat. Arrhythmias include the heart beating too fast, too slow or irregularly. Post-surgical recovery, high blood pressure, coronary artery disease and electrolyte imbalances such as a lack of potassium can all cause arrhythmias. An arrhythmia may create symptoms of dizziness and shortness of breath or may create a sensation that the heart is pounding or fluttering. Arrhythmias are usually harmless, according to the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute, but some can indicate a dangerous health condition, so consult your doctor if you experience an irregular heartbeat.
Caffeine is a stimulant that works on the central nervous system. Caffeine works by creating increased neuron activity in the brain. The pituitary gland interprets this additional neuron activity as signaling an emergency and releases adrenalin, according to Brown University Health Education. This can elevate the heart rate and cause a sense of stress, anxiety or excitement. Caffeine can also pass through breast milk, causing these same physiological effects in a nursing infant.
Caffeine and Arrhythmia
Caffeine is most closely associated with premature or extra beat arrhythmias, which are both the most common and most harmless type of irregular heartbeat, according to the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute. Premature beats can occur in the heart atria or ventricles and can also be caused by nicotine, stress or exercise. Premature beats will usually feel like your heart missed a beat, or a slight flutter in the chest. No medical treatment is necessary for occasional premature heartbeats in otherwise healthy individuals, but see a doctor if they occur on anything other than a rare basis to rule out a more serious heart condition.
Considerations and Warnings
Although most irregular heartbeats are harmless, some arrhythmias such as atrial fibrillation can be fatal. An irregular heartbeat may indicate anemia, heart disease, a thyroid disorder or a negative reaction to medications, according to MedLine Plus. Contact your doctor immediately if you are having irregular heartbeats for the first time or have known cardiovascular health risk factors such as high blood pressure or high cholesterol. Call for emergency services if the irregular heartbeat is accompanied by dizziness, shortness of breath, sweating or loss of consciousness.