Heart palpitations can be a scary thing. What’s causing them? Should you go to the hospital? What do you do to stop them? It’s always important to be aware of your health, and when something like palpitations occur, you can be educated and will know whether you need to see your doctor. Sometimes that knowledge can mean the difference between taking a few minutes to relax or rushing to the hospital.
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Significance of Palpitations
Palpitations are best described as feeling as if your heart is pounding. You may actually be able to feel it in your chest or hear it in your ears. Your heart rate may be normal, fast or feel as if it has skipped beats. Among numerous causes of palpitations are stress or anxiety, caffeine, diet pills, nicotine, low levels of oxygen in your blood and many others. Palpitations can be worrisome but they are usually harmless, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Effects of Smoking
Nicotine is the primary addictive chemical in tobacco and causes your adrenal glands to release epinephrine. Epinephrine increases blood pressure and breathing rate as well as heart rate, which can increase by 10 to 25 beats per minute. The smoke inhaled from cigarettes contains carbon monoxide, which binds to oxygen in the blood, leaving the oxygen useless. This reduction of oxygen can also raise the heart rate because your heart is now working harder to push air through the vessels, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Both nicotine and low oxygen in the blood are causes of palpitations.
One of the causes of palpitations is anxiety, which may include panic attacks. According to a study printed in the “Anxiety and Substance Use Disorders” journal, not only is smoking a risk factor for panic attacks, it may also prolong them, increase their intensity and maintain the likelihood of future attacks. Considering panic attacks include heart palpitations as a symptom, smoking is considered an indirect cause of palpitations in this setting.
Palpitations are often harmless and will subside on their own, according to MedlinePlus. Occasionally palpitations can be symptoms of more serious health problems such as an abnormal heart valve, heart disease, panic disorder or arrhythmia, according to the Mayo Clinic. Symptoms telling you to seek immediate medical assistance are dizziness, chest pain, racing heart rate higher than 100 beats per minute while resting, shortness of breath or fainting.
If you are experiencing heart palpitations and are a current smoker, the best course is to quit smoking. While smoking may not be the only cause of the palpitations it is a contributing factor and quitting can only improve your health. Relaxation techniques and breathing exercises may lessen the severity and duration of palpitations, according to MedlinePlus. Visiting your doctor is also recommended to rule out any underlying health issues.
REFERENCES & RESOURCES
- MedLine Plus: Heart Palpitations
- MayoClinic: Heart Palpitations
- Smoking Cessation: Clearing The Air On The Hard Facts Of What Smoking Does To Your Body
- NIDA InfoFacts: Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products
- "Anxiety and Substance Use Disorders": Co-morbid Panic Psychopathology and Tobacco Use ...
- "Journal of Anxiety Disorders"; The impact of smoking on panic disorder; Zvolensky, et al.; 2003