Heart palpitations, a type of abnormal heartbeat, may feel like a fluttering sensation in the chest, skipped or extra heartbeats, or a feeling that the heart is "flip-flopping" or "running away." Having excessively low or high blood levels of an electrolyte such as sodium may cause heart palpitations as well as other serious symptoms. While most heart palpitations are not serious and will go away on their own, it's important to see a doctor to get them checked.
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Electrolyte minerals including sodium, potassium, magnesium, calcium, chlorine and phosphate are important for maintaining the body's fluid levels as well as supporting important body functions. Electrolyte imbalances such as hyponatremia, or low sodium, may cause heart palpitations. Other symptoms of electrolyte imbalance include fatigue, muscle spasms, weakness, twitching, convulsions and confusion. Electrolyte imbalances including low sodium may result from taking diuretic medications, drinking too much water, kidney disease or fluid loss from excessive sweating, vomiting or diarrhea. Cancer and cancer treatments may also cause hyponatremia.
Prevention, Diagnosis and Treatment
A doctor can determine whether your heart palpitations are a symptom of low sodium by conducting blood and urine tests. Depending on the cause of hyponatremia, treatments may include restricting water intake, intravenous fluid delivery or administration of medications to relieve symptoms. Consuming salt can help address low sodium levels before they become severe. In particular, athletes can prevent hyponatremia by drinking electrolyte beverages such as sports drinks during prolonged and strenuous exercise. Drinking only water during high-energy athletic events can lead to acute hyponatremia, according to PubMed Health.
While heart palpitations are not always a serious symptom, hyponatremia can have very serious consequences, including swelling of the brain, brain herniation, coma and death. It is therefore imperative to seek immediate medical attention if your heart palpitations are accompanied by other symptoms of hyponatremia such as abnormal mental status. Hyponatremia is especially life-threatening in acute cases which develop within 48 hours. Chronic hyponatremia that develops over days or weeks is less likely to cause life-threatening brain swelling.
Besides electrolyte balances such as too little sodium, heart palpitations may result from other causes. Intense physical activity and strong emotions such as anxiety or stress may cause heart palpitations, for example. Medical conditions including an overactive thyroid, low blood sugar, low blood pressure, anemia, or an arrythmia related to a heart problem may also cause heart palpitations. Hormonal changes during pregnancy or menstruation, and taking certain medicines, illegal drugs, tobacco or stimulants are other potential causes of heart palpitations.