Millions of Americans, including children, take dietary supplements to treat or prevent a host of illnesses and conditions, according to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, but these supplements can have side effects, including heart palpitations.
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Which Supplements or Herbs Cause Heart Palpitations?
"Heart palpitations are a potential concern with supplements containing green tea, guarana, yerba mate, or kola nut — all ingredients that naturally contain caffeine," says Tod Cooperman, MD, president of Consumerlab.com, an independent testing company focused on health and nutrition products in White Plains, New York. "Another ingredient of concern is bitter orange, which naturally contains synephrine," which is a stimulant, he adds.
These ingredients are often combined in weight loss supplements — some of which include straight caffeine, he says.
Energy drinks, which contain stimulant drugs, including caffeine, may also cause heart palpitations, especially in kids, according to a study in a December 2017 issue of Pediatric Emergency Care. Some 40 percent of teens in the study reported a side effect from energy drinks, including heart palpitations.
In addition to supplements (especially those that contain caffeine or other stimulants), nicotine in tobacco products, stress, exercise and certain medications can make your heart race, including asthma inhalers, decongestants, blood pressure medications known as beta blockers, drugs that control heart rhythm, thyroid medication and some over-the-counter cough and cold medicines, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Heart Palpitations: What to Do
If you notice your heart starting to flutter, review all of the medications and supplements you are taking to see if you can identify a cause, Dr. Cooperman says. If it is a prescription drug, over-the-counter medication or supplement you believe is causing your heart palpitations, ask your doctor about alternatives. "Stop any stimulant and caffeine-containing supplements, including energy drinks," Dr. Cooperman says.
Heart palpitations are usually harmless, but they can be a symptom of a more serious underlying heart condition, such as an irregular heartbeat, the Mayo Clinic notes.
As a general rule, heart palpitations are not an emergency if they are infrequent and short lived, the Mayo Clinic adds. However, if you have a history of heart disease and experience palpitations that are occurring more frequently or getting worse, see your doctor ASAP.
The Mayo Clinic also says other red flags that suggest your heart palpitations may be a sign of something serious may include:
- Chest pain
- Trouble breathing
- Dizziness or light-headedness
Treating Heart Palpitations
Only a doctor can tell you if your heart palpitations are the result of an abnormal heart rhythm or arrhythmia. There are several tests that can help identify the cause of your heart palpitations.
An electrocardiogram (ECG) captures your heart's electrical activity. This is a brief in-office test that may not capture your flutter if it occurs infrequently. You may be asked to wear a portable monitor such as a Holter monitor for 24 to 48 hours to see what is going on with your heart. Another type of test, the exercise stress ECG, records your heart's electrical activity while you walk on a treadmill, according to the Mayo Clinic.
If testing finds an irregular heart rhythm, you may need treatment. This will likely involve lifestyle changes such as eating a heart-healthy diet, engaging in regular physical activity (assuming you get a green light to do so), maintaining a normal weight, quitting smoking and finding a healthy way to cope with stress, says the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI).
Read more: Palpitations After Eating Carbs or Sugar
Some arrhythmias are more serious than others. For example, atrial fibrillation is very fast and irregular contractions of your heart's two upper chambers or atria, says NHLBI. Untreated, it can dramatically increase your chances of having a stroke.
If you are diagnosed with atrial fibrillation, also known as AFib, your doctor may prescribe one or more medications to slow your heart rate, keep your heart in a normal rhythm and lower your risk for stroke. Other types of treatment, such as surgery to implant a pacemaker to control the heartbeat or non-surgical procedures to restore normal heart rhythm, may also be options, according to the American Heart Association.
Is This an Emergency?
- National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health: “Using Dietary Supplements Wisely”
- Tod Cooperman, MD, president of Consumerlab.com, White Plains, New York
- Pediatric Emergency Care: “Reasons for Energy Drink Use and Reported Adverse Effects Among Adolescent Emergency Department Patients”
- Mayo Clinic: "Heart Palpitations”
- National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute: “Arrhythmia”
- American Heart Association: “Treatment Options of Atrial Fibrillation (AFib or AF)”
- Mayo Clinic: "Heart Palpitations: Diagnosis and Treatment"
- NHLBI: "Atrial Fibrillation"