The clock glowed 4:44 AM.
Jenny had just been awakened from a deep sleep with her heart racing and a rising feeling of dread. She tried not to panic as she breathed deeply, but was terrified that something was really wrong. A full cardiac workup with her doctor when this first happened 2 months ago revealed nothing and he sent her on her way. A few weeks later, the same thing happened as she was driving to work. Another doctor visit, another glowing report. But here she was again, still with no clue what was causing her crazy heartbeat.
Jenny emailed me to ask if I had any idea what might be going on. “Sounds like perimenopause”, I said. “Why didn’t my doctor tell me that?”, she exclaimed. I explained to her that many doctors don’t make the connection between perimenopause and heart palpitations, but that it’s a very common occurrence for women at this time in their lives.
What are heart palpitations?
Palpitations are irregular heart beats that can include skipped beats, extra beats (as many as 8 to 16 beats a minute), and a racing heart (as many as 200 beats a minute). Many women describe palpitations as the feeling that their heart is beating out of their chest!
Causes of Palpitations
Heart palpitations (also known as tachycardia) are a result of hormone imbalances (low estrogen or progesterone) or increased sensitivity to things that no longer agree with your body, including caffeine, refined carbohydrates, aspartame, alcohol, or monosodium glutamate, all of which may overstimulate your heart. Many women report that episodes of tachycardia happen in conjunction with hot flashes.
When to See Your Doctor
If you have palpitations occasionally and they only last for a few seconds, you probably don’t need to do anything about them. See your doctor if your palpitations:
- start to happen more often
- last for more than a few minutes
- get worse over time
You might have a more serious heart problem called atrial fibrillation that needs to be treated.
Get emergency medical help right away if you have these symptoms along with palpitations:
- shortness of breath
- chest pain
How to Manage Your Rapid Heartbeat
Caffeine and alcohol are well-known offenders when it comes to triggering episodes of tachycardia. Start by eliminating both of these to see if that stops the episodes of rapid heart beat. If that doesn’t work, do a little detective work with foods or situations that you may be sensitive to.
Supplements that may help include magnesium (I recommend the glycinate formulation) and progesterone cream. If you try progesterone and are still having problems, it may be time to get your thyroid checked or consider that adrenal issues may be part of the problem. Stress management is also important. Midlife is an excellent time to re-evaluate all that is on your plate and make some choices about what your priorities are so your stress level is manageable.
Above all, don’t panic! Heart palpitations can be alarming, but remember that they are a common experience in perimenopause. Try to remain calm when you have them and focus on your breathing. If you have heart palpitations when you are active, stop what you are doing and sit down or lie down and breathe deeply and slowly through your nose and out your mouth. Your normal heart rate should return within a few minutes.
Dr. Anna Garrett is a menopause expert and Doctor of Pharmacy. She helps women who are struggling with symptoms of perimenopause and menopause find natural hormone balancing solutions so they can rock their mojo through midlife and beyond. Her clients would tell you that her real gift is helping them reclaim parts of themselves they thought were gone forever.
Find out more about working with her at https://www.drannagarrett.com/work-with-me/.