You might have a fast heartbeat after eating carbs, which may cause heart palpitations. There's a difference between experiencing heart palpitations and having a serious problem like an arrhythmia.
How the Heart Contracts
The heart beats an average of 100,000 times per day. With all those beats, it pumps about 2,000 gallons of blood through your circulatory system. That's impressive for a muscle slightly larger than the size of your fist.
The beating of a heart is a coordinated effort. It has to beat in the correct rhythm to keep blood moving at a regular pace. There are four chambers in the human heart. The top two chambers are the atria, and the bottom two are the ventricles.
The atria, or the top two chambers, are smaller and contract at the same time. They receive blood from large veins and store it before pumping the blood into the two chambers below. The chambers under the atria are called the ventricles. They're larger and more powerful because they need to send blood out to your body's extremities, notes the National Cancer Institute.
Your nervous system is responsible for making your heart beat. Two main areas are receiving the electrical currents that tell your heart to contract. The first is in the top right atrium of your heart, which is called the sinoatrial node. The sinoatrial node, when charged, sends a signal to contract throughout the atrium. The two chambers of the atrium then contract and send blood to the ventricles.
As the atria contract, the electrical signal runs down the heart to another spot called the atrioventricular node. This spot delays the electrical signal for a split second to let the ventricles fill with blood. Then, it tells the ventricles to contract.
Heartbeats are complicated, and there are many areas of the beat where something can go wrong. If you experience an irregular heartbeat, it could be due to mental problems, like stress, or physical problems, such as dehydration, which affects the body's electrolyte levels.
Feeling your heart racing is uncomfortable. There's plenty of information online that can scare you if you research these symptoms. Couple that with an abnormally high heart rate, and you might feel like something is wrong with you.
Read more: My Heartbeat Skips After Exercise
Causes of Heart Palpitations
If you feel like your heart is racing or skipping beats after a meal heavy with carbohydrates and sugar, you're probably suffering from heart palpitations. It's important to know the difference between experiencing heart palpitations and actually suffering from a problem, such as arrhythmias.
Heart palpitations may or may not indicate a problem. You might be feeling the normal beat of your heart in a spot like your throat or chest. The heart regularly beats 60 to 100 times per minute when you're at rest. It may be lower if you're in good shape.
Certain things can make your heart race faster than normal. Dehydration, for example, can speed up your heart rate, warn the experts at Harvard Medical School. If you're stressed out or having a panic attack, your heart will beat faster. That could trigger even more anxiety if you perceive your increased heart rate as dangerous.
Low potassium levels in the body can cause a faster heart rate, which can happen when you're dehydrated or not taking in enough electrolytes. Illness, particularly fever, can cause a faster-than-normal heart rate, too.
Caffeine is one of the few supplements that may an irregular heartbeat. It can come from sources like coffee and tea or chocolate. While eating sugary food won't give you heart palpitations, the caffeine from a sugary treat like chocolate will.
You're probably not going to have a fast heartbeat after eating carbs. In fact, low blood sugar is a cause of heart palpitations, points out the Cleveland Clinic. Diabetics are particularly susceptible to this problem because they have trouble regulating their blood sugar. However, if you feel like your heart is racing after a big meal, it's probably just your perception instead of an actual irregular heartbeat.
Arrhythmia of the Heart
While heart palpitations might not mean that anything is wrong with your heart, they can signify an arrhythmia. It's not necessarily dangerous for your heart to beat irregularly every once in a while, but if it happens regularly, you should see a doctor.
Unlike palpitations, which are caused by something you feel, you may never feel an arrhythmia. However, some arrhythmias feel like a fluttering heartbeat and can make you dizzy or lightheaded, states the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
There are several possible causes of arrhythmia. Low blood sugar is one, as is dehydration. Excessive thyroid hormone may cause fluttering as well. Some antibiotics can cause arrhythmia. The same goes for alcohol and caffeine. Even cold medicines may contribute to an irregular heartbeat.
Your doctor can use a test called an EKG to read the electrical activity of your heart and determine if you're having an arrhythmia. If you do, it might go away on its own, or you might need to take medication.
Read more: Vitamins That Can Cause Heart Palpitations
Sugar and Heart Rate
Eating a high-carbohydrate or sugary meal might not cause an irregular heartbeat, but there are consequences to having too much sugar. When you eat a high-carbohydrate or high-sugar meal, your body breaks it down to glucose. Then, a large dose of glucose is sent into your bloodstream.
If you have mildly high blood sugar, you may experience strange symptoms like increased thirst, frequent urination, fatigue and even increased appetite. Normally, your body will secrete insulin to take sugar out of your bloodstream and store it in your muscles or liver. However, it's possible to have more sugar than your body can handle.
Moderate to extremely-high blood pressure has more serious symptoms. Your vision can blur and you might be lightheaded. You might be extremely thirsty, restless and drowsy as well. If you're a diabetic, high blood sugar can cause increased heart rate, so you might have a fast heartbeat after eating carbohydrates.
Diabetics, who can't produce insulin or have trouble using insulin, may find it difficult to manage their blood sugar. If it gets too high, there's a risk of going unconscious. Irregular heart rhythms from high blood sugar are unlikely, though.
- University of Wisconsin-Madison: "Symptoms of High Blood Sugar"
- Medline Plus: "Heart Health Tests"
- National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute: "Arrhythmia"
- Medline Plus: "Arrhythmia"
- Cleveland Clinics: "Heart Palpitations"
- Harvard Health: "Skipping a Beat — the Surprise of Heart Palpitations"
- Medline Plus: "Heart Palpitations"
- National Cancer Institute: "Structure of the Heart"
- MayoClinic.com: Heart Arrythmias: Lifestyle and Home Remedies
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Hyperthyroidism