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Heart Palpitations, Sugar and Caffeine

author image Virginia Van Vynckt
From 1978 until 1995, Virginia Van Vynckt worked as a writer and editor at The Chicago Sun-Times. She has written extensively about food and nutrition, having co-authored seven cookbooks. She also published "Our Own," a book about older-child adoption. Van Vynckt holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in journalism from Indiana University.
Heart Palpitations, Sugar and Caffeine
A young man drinking a cup of coffee. Photo Credit Stockbyte/Stockbyte/Getty Images

Caffeine is a stimulant that can cause heart palpitations if you ingest too much of it or are sensitive to it. Caffeine also can trigger panic or anxiety attacks, especially if you already have an anxiety disorder. This could cause heart palpitations. There is little or no research linking sugar intake to heart palpitations, but hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar, can cause palpitations.

Heart palpitations

When you’re having heart palpitations, you feel beats in your chest, throat or neck as if your heart is racing, fluttering, pounding in your chest or skipping beats. Most heart palpitations are harmless. However, palpitations can signal potentially serious disorders of the heart rate or rhythm.

Caffeine and Palpitations

The average healthy adult can tolerate caffeine in moderate amounts — 200 to 300 mg a day. That’s the average amount in 8 to 16 oz. of coffee, four to five, 6-oz. cups of tea or 12-oz. cans of cola, or two or three, 8-oz. energy drinks. Amounts higher than 500 mg a day can trigger symptoms that include fast heartbeat or heart palpitations. But if you are sensitive to caffeine or have an anxiety disorder, a much smaller amount of caffeine can cause heart palpitations, on their own or as a symptom of a panic or anxiety attack.

Caffeine Sources

In addition to coffee, tea, cola and energy drinks, you’ll find caffeine in some non-cola soft drinks. Decaffeinated coffee still contains small amounts of caffeine. Chocolate also contains caffeine. Some food processors even add caffeine to foods such as oatmeal, chewing gum, breath mints and sunflower seeds. Weight-loss supplements and some over-the-counter or prescription medications such as antihistamines and pain killers contain caffeine. If you’re sensitive to caffeine be wary of any product touted to boost energy or alertness or if the label lists caffeine or caffeine-containing herbs such as guarana or yerba mate as ingredients.

Sugar and Palpitations

No research links sugar per se to palpitations. However, for some people eating too many sweets can cause the body to overproduce insulin, which then causes a drop in blood sugar. Low blood sugar can sometimes cause heart palpitations. If you are diabetic or subject to episodes of hypoglycemia dietitians recommend avoiding or greatly reducing the amount of simple sugars you eat.

Prevention and Treatment

If caffeine makes your heart race the cure is easy — reduce or eliminate the amount of caffeine you ingest. The National Institutes of Health advises calling 911 if symptoms such as loss of consciousness, sweating, nausea, chest pain, lightheadedness or dizziness accompany the heart palpitations. If palpitations are new to you or you have frequent extra heartbeats; your pulse measures more than 100 beats per minute without exercise, an anxiety attack or fever. If you have heart disease or risk factors for heart disease such as diabetes, high blood pressure or high cholesterol call your doctor as soon as possible.

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