Does your heart unexpectedly start to race, pound or “skip beats”? These sensations are called “heart palpitations”. For some women, it’s a once-in-a-blue-moon event. But other women experience heart palpitations in menopause more often. ?
Palpitations are common in menopause and they are usually not harmful. Among the many factors that cause palpitations in women are hormonal fluctuations. But in some cases, palpitations could be a sign of an underlying condition.
So, what else causes heart palpitations? Several triggers can make your heart pound — such as stress, anxiety, lack of sleep, dehydration and dietary factors. Don’t worry, though! You will not leave this article with a racing heart! ?
Further down, you will discover many things you can do to manage and prevent palpitations. Let’s talk first about what palpitations really feel like!
What Do Heart Palpitations Feel Like?
Heart palpitations feel like your heart is thumping, racing or fluttering. Sometimes, you will feel the sensation throughout your chest — as if you can literally hear your heartbeat! This discomfort can also extend to the neck region.
Now, if your heart seemed to skip a beat after a romantic dinner, you’re totally fine, sweetie. And kudos to your hubby! ? Kidding aside, if your heart palpitates after a fleeting moment of excitement, anxiety or fear, there’s nothing to worry about! We commonly know that as an “adrenaline rush”, where your neurotransmitters go bananas — making your heart pump hard!
However, if palpitations occur without a clear reason, it could be due to several factors. Most experts say that a “normal” palpitation should not last for more than two minutes. If it does, it’s best to identify the root cause, so you’ll know what steps to take!
Before talking more about what causes heart palpitations, watch this video first from Dr. Michael Arcarese! He is an Interventional Cardiologist at Chippenham & Johnston-Willis Hospital. In this video, Dr. Arcarese will give you a run-through of what it means when your heart flutters!
What Causes Heart Palpitations in Menopause?
I understand that experiencing palpitations can be scary. Fortunately, these sensations are usually not harmful! However, it still pays to be knowledgeable and aware, sweetie. Listening to your body when it tells you something can save you from heart-related issues like palpitations! ?
One of the primary reasons behind heart palpitations in menopause is hormonal fluctuations. Other factors include stress, anxiety, lack of sleep, dehydration and dietary factors. Less often, heart palpitations may also result from health conditions such as high blood pressure, low blood sugar levels, overactive thyroid, low potassium, low oxygen or carbon dioxide, anemia or risk of cardiovascular disease.
Read more so you’ll know how these triggers affect our heart health!
Our hormones naturally fluctuate as we age. And what hormones are linked to heart palpitations in menopause? Progesterone and estrogen! Here’s how they affect our heart health:
✅ Progesterone: This is the first hormone that declines when we enter perimenopause – the first stage of menopause. When progesterone’s balance gets tipped off, it can have a ripple effect and lead to many symptoms – including palpitations!
Moreover, progesterone is known for its ability to “tame” the wild side of estrogen. Yup, estrogen and progesterone have opposing effects! Therefore, without enough progesterone to keep estrogen’s effects at bay, our emotions can go up and down, left and right!
For example, serotonin and Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid (GABA) are some neurotransmitters that make us feel calm. But when estrogen is too high (in ratio to progesterone), these neurotransmitters become overstimulated — making us feel anxious, sad or moody. These emotions can mess with our nervous system and lead to palpitations.
✅ Estrogen: Estrogen is believed to have heart-protective qualities by maintaining the elasticity of the arteries. It also helps regulate cholesterol levels and facilitate any changes in blood flow! Therefore, the decline in estrogen during menopause makes the blood vessels less elastic — making it more likely for plaque and blood clots to form. Also, our heart needs to work harder if the blood vessels are not smooth, relaxed and dilated — leading to an increased heart rate and frequency of palpitations! Furthermore, growing studies show that low estrogen is one of the risk factors of cardiovascular disease among women.
The emotional highs and lows of our menopausal life can activate our body’s fight-or-flight response. This stress response can speed up our heart rate! Our blood flow increases, giving us a burst of energy to either “fight” or “run from danger”. ?
Strong emotions can also impede the free flow of blood. Anything that causes constriction in your blood vessels makes your heart and vessels work harder to do their job. Therefore, we might notice palpitations as the immediate physical reaction when we’re scared, nervous or anxious!
We all have late-night thoughts. Many menopause symptoms also keep us up at night – making us sleepless! ?
Generally, poor sleep quality, including abrupt awakenings, can cause a sharp increase in heart rate. Research also found that women with sleeping problems are more likely to complain of an irregular heartbeat! For these reasons, lack of sleep is tied to heart palpitations in menopause.
Dehydration can cause heart palpitations because blood contains water. Any decline (no matter how small) in the amount of water in the bloodstream can have a drastic effect on our body! Remember, our body functions rely greatly on the delicate balance between nutrients and fluids.
So, when you become dehydrated, your blood can become thicker! The thicker the blood, the harder your heart must work to move blood through your veins. This can increase your pulse rate and potentially lead to palpitations. ?
5. Underlying Health Conditions
Typically, heart palpitations in menopause are harmless. However, if you have already tried many remedies or techniques but the palpitations persist, they may be a warning signal of certain health conditions:
- High Blood Pressure (hypertension)
- Low Blood Sugar Levels (hypoglycemia)
- Overactive Thyroid (hyperthyroidism)
- Low Potassium
- Low Oxygen or Carbon Dioxide
- Risk of Cardiovascular Disease
How Does Too Much Estrogen Cause Heart Palpitations?
Earlier, we talked about the imbalance between progesterone and estrogen levels — and how it leads to heart palpitations. I hope that served as a good reminder to always keep your hormones at optimal levels! Let me share more details, so you’ll have a clearer understanding! ?
When estrogen is properly regulated and stays within normal levels, it takes good care of your heart and blood vessels. With progesterone ready to “neutralize” estrogen’s effects, estrogen becomes your ally in maintaining heart health!
But during perimenopause, your ovaries start to falter — and hormone production slowly declines. The first hormone to go down is progesterone. Meanwhile, estrogen levels either stay normal or may also fluctuate — but not as much as progesterone. With enough estrogen and less progesterone, an imbalance in ratio takes place. This condition is called estrogen dominance (ED).
Estrogen becomes the “boss hormone” in the case of estrogen dominance. With little progesterone to counteract estrogen’s effects, estrogen goes on a rampage! Studies show that estrogen can profoundly affect our body’s response to stress. It will stimulate the release of stress hormones (cortisol), adrenaline and norepinephrine. These chemicals tell your body that it’s “under threat”!
Now, when the sympathetic nervous system is active (due to a perceived threat), our heart rate and blood pressure increase — which, in turn, leads to heart palpitations.
Dara Lee explains why women get heart palpitations in menopause, how to work up heart palpitations, and what it means for your heart. Don’t miss this one! ?
Why Do I Experience Heart Palpitations After Eating?
Some women report that they experience palpitations only after they eat. Do palpitations have something to do with food?
Personally, I experience heart palpitations every time I eat sugary foods or have a glass of wine. I am a healthy eater, but once or twice a year, I get cravings and head to the candy store! After giving in to my sweet tooth, I can almost hear my heart’s frustration as it sounds like a bass drum. ?
Generally, heart palpitations after eating can occur due to the chewing, swallowing and digestive processes. Remember, everything in our body is connected. So, it’s a little traffic jam situation! Give your food some time to settle, eat mindfully and breathe.
Heart palpitations after eating could also be due to the kind of food you eat! In midlife, our heart and body become increasingly sensitive to things that don’t serve us! Foods and ingredients that may overstimulate our heart and cause palpitations include:
- High-carbohydrate foods
- High-sodium foods (processed foods)
- High-sugar foods
- Spicy or rich foods (which can cause heartburn)
- Monosodium glutamate (MSG)
Therefore, avoid these foods and eat heart-healthy foods instead! Check out my article for a great list of foods that will support your heart health!
When buying food products, be mindful of the labels too! There are so many hidden things, so play detective and go over the ingredients list. Watch out if any of the ingredients above are in the product you’re about to buy!
Heart Palpitations at Night: Is This Normal?
Experts say that having heart palpitations at night are commonly normal and is not a “special case” that should cause worry. Palpitations can happen at any time — even if you are resting or doing normal activities.
If you get palpitations at night, it is probably because you are more likely to notice palpitations when you are not distracted. It could also be due to stress or anxiety — which can both make your heart beat faster! Some women may also get heart palpitations when lying down, especially those who sleep on their left. Sleeping hunched over on your side can increase pressure inside the body, because the heart is right next to the chest wall, and the heartbeat becomes more noticeable.
How to Relieve Heart Palpitations Naturally
Besides eliminating food triggers and eating a hormone-balancing diet, you can also relieve heart palpitations in menopause by embracing natural remedies! Here are the best habits you can do to make your heart happy:
- Get good sleep quality
- Do low-impact exercises (like yoga, Pilates and qigong)
- Meditate & make time for stress-busting activities
- Try breathing exercises and muscle exercises
- Drink heart-calming teas
- Embrace acupuncture
- Consider progesterone cream
Good Sleep Quality: Get 7-9 hours of quality sleep. It’s a great time for you to recover and have a “mental detox”!
Low-Impact Exercises: Yoga, Pilates and qigong are great low-impact exercises that help improve blood circulation. These exercises also promote heart health and boost mental stability!
Meditation & Stress Management: Yup, we can’t get rid of stress entirely. But there are things we can do to manage it! For one, meditation is a proven tool for effective stress management. You can also do any stress-busting activity that enriches your mind, body and heart!
Deep Breathing: Deep breathing helps you relax and ease the stress and anxiety that can come with palpitations. Ultimately, it is a good practice to integrate into your life! Calming yourself down and taking slow, deep breaths can effectively regulate your heart’s rhythm and trigger the release of your happy and calming hormones!
✅ Simple Breathing Exercise: Sit quietly and close your eyes. Place one hand on your abdomen. Breathe slowly and deeply through your nose. Feel your abdomen move outward. Exhale through your nose or mouth (whichever feels more comfortable). Repeat until you normalize the heartbeat!
Try the Valsalva Maneuver: Doing the Valsalva maneuver stimulates the vagus nerve — which helps control the heart rate!
✅ How to do the Valsalva Maneuver: Pinch your nose closed with the fingers of one hand. Close your mouth. Try to breathe out forcibly through your nose. Watch this video to get a clearer demonstration of the Valsalva Maneuver!
Use Cold Water: Splash cold water on your face or immerse your face in a sink or large bowl filled with cold water. Sometimes, all we need is to cool down (literally)!
Heart-Calming Teas: Besides going decaf, you can replace coffee with heart-calming teas like chamomile, peppermint, oolong, ginseng, lavender, St. John’s Wort and green tea! It would also be wise to limit your alcohol intake.
Acupuncture. Acupuncture has proven effects in correcting heart rhythm irregularities. It also improves blood flow and relaxes the central nervous system — which is often one of the reasons why your heart hyperactivates!
Natural Progesterone Cream. Natural progesterone cream doesn’t only help your body regulate estrogen and prevent heart palpitations. It also promotes hormonal balance and eases other menopause symptoms! However, it’s best to seek help from a qualified hormonal health expert. They can help you find the best treatment, so you can get back to living a balanced and healthy life!
What Supplement is Good for Heart Palpitations in Menopause?
Hawthorn, magnesium, ashwagandha, potassium, B-vitamins and omega-3 fatty acids are among the best supplements that help prevent heart palpitations in menopause!
♥ In European herbal medicine, hawthorn is the oldest known medicinal plant. The berries, leaves and flowers of hawthorn have been used traditionally until today! This herb contains antioxidant properties — which help dilate blood vessels, improve blood flow and protect blood vessels from being damaged!
♥ Magnesium is involved in transporting electrolytes (such as calcium and potassium) into the cells. Electrolytes are vital for nerve signals and also to help regulate the muscle contractions of a normal heartbeat!
♥ Ashwagandha can potentially decrease the risk of heart disease by helping reduce triglycerides and bad cholesterol. Many women also report that taking ashwagandha has helped them manage stress and anxiety!
♥ Potassium is the heart’s main source of food. It controls the electrical signals of the myocardium — the middle layer of your heart muscle. This nutrient is vital because it keeps your heart beating at the right pace!
♥ B-vitamins decrease the release of an amino acid called “homocysteine”. Homocysteine hardens your arteries and puts you at higher risk of stroke and heart diseases.
♥ Omega-3 is one of the best nutrients that keeps your cardiac muscles functioning optimally. It also reduces triglycerides (which increase blood pressure) and prevents plaque buildup in your arteries! Besides getting it in supplement form, the best natural food sources of omega-3 are salmon, cod, sardines, halibut and more. Seeds and nuts, especially flaxseeds and almonds, are also rich in omega-3!
Heart Palpitations in Menopause: When to See a Doctor
If your heart is racing unexpectedly, you can try to stop it with any of the tips I shared!
However, if they don’t work promptly and the symptoms persist, it would be best to seek medical attention, to rule out any abnormalities! Most heart palpitations are benign (harmless), but not all.
See a doctor if you experience chest or back pain; shortness of breath or trouble breathing; feeling faint or having fainted; nausea or vomiting. Moreover, doctors will investigate palpitations in menopausal women if:
- incidents of palpitations last a long period
- palpitations are becoming more frequent
- a woman is experiencing other disruptive menopause symptoms along with palpitations
Many women have also mistaken heart palpitations for a heart condition called “atrial fibrillation” (AFib). Atrial fibrillation happens when so much electrical impulse is released and your heart contracts very fast — in an irregular manner. Although heart palpitations occur in AFib, it’s not always the case.
Here are factors that will help you know if it’s a normal heart palpitation or an AFib palpitation:
• Situation: If you’re in a tense and anxiety-producing situation, it might be just nervousness getting to you. But if you’re lying down or sleeping and you experience heart palpitations with a sharp pain in your chest, it may be something else.
• Duration: AFib heart palpitations last longer than those caused by anxiety.
• Accompanying Discomforts: AFib heart palpitations can come with chest pain, nausea, dizziness, stomach pain and shoulder and nape pain.
• Listen to the Beat: Heartbeat is super erratic in AFib. In “normal” heart palpitations, the beat is fast, but steady and regular.
On average, your heart beats 103,000 times a day. Multiply that to 365 days — and multiply again to the number of years you’ve lived. The number won’t even fit in a phone calculator! If you paid a dollar for every beat, your heart would now be a zillionaire. But nope, your heart works as a machine and tirelessly pumps throughout your lifetime. The least you can do is to give it the care and support it needs! ?
Eat heart-healthy foods and make lifestyle changes that work best with your body. On top of that, find out what your heart is yearning for. It could be something more than just physical! Maybe a pent-up emotion? Or longingness for something (or someone)?
Do things that will make your midlife days more fulfilling than ever. This way, your heart might not have to talk to you so loudly anymore. Listen! Be a good dancer to the rhythm of your heart. ?
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When to Evaluate Heart Palpitations | Johns Hopkins Medicine
Skipping a beat — the surprise of heart palpitations – Harvard Health
Heart Palpitations After Eating (clevelandclinic.org)
Heart palpitations and ectopic beats – NHS (www.nhs.uk)
Heart Palpitations: Causes, Treatment & Prevention (clevelandclinic.org)
Menopausal Heart Palpitations Can Cause Distress, May Signal Serious Health Issue | Everyday Health
Sleep and cardiac symptoms amongst women aged 40-64 years – PubMed (nih.gov)
Heart Palpitations in Menopause: Don’t Brush Off This Symptom (gennev.com)
How Sleep Deprivation Affects Your Heart | Sleep Foundation
Heart Palpitations | Christiane Northrup, M.D. (drnorthrup.com)
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Heart palpitations: Mostly harmless – Harvard Health
IJMS | Free Full-Text | The Role of Estrogen Receptors in Cardiovascular Disease (mdpi.com)
Estrogen therapy in early menopause may help keep arteries clear | American Heart Association
Abstract MP09: Effect of Estradiol Therapy on Arterial Wall Echomorphology in the Early versus Late Intervention Trial With Estradiol(elite) | Circulation (ahajournals.org)
Gita is the founder of My Menopause Journey. Since 2014, she has been supporting midlife women by sharing hard-earned learnings from her own experience. To advance her knowledge, Gita puts a lot of her time and effort into understanding the broad spectrum of women’s health. She immerses in extensive research about the physical, mental and emotional aspects of menopause. Gita believes in the life-changing power of healthy, holistic living — this is where she anchors her message to all women. Learn more about her marvelous mission in About us - My Menopause Journey.