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Can Caffeine Cause Your Heart to Skip a Beat?

By Clay McNight

Caffeine, frequently used to increase energy and alertness, can have a number of unpleasant side effects for some individuals. These can include anxiety, tremors, restlessness, nausea, difficulty sleeping, depression, frequent urination and heart palpitations. When a heart palpitation occurs you may feel as if your heart has skipped a beat.

Effects of Caffeine

Caffeine works by stimulating the central nervous system, which can increase heart rate, body temperature, blood pressure and blood flow to the skin and extremities. These effects can begin 15 minutes after drinking coffee and can last up to six hours. Moderate doses of caffeine, which would be up to 250 milligrams of coffee cause few, if any, negative side effects for most people, according to the University of Michigan. However, larger doses of caffeine -- up to 1000 milligrams or 10, 6-ounce cups of coffee -- are much more likely to cause side effects.

Heart Palpitations

Heart palpitations are feelings that your heart is pulsating in your throat, chest or neck. Heart palpitations can feel like your heart has skipped a beat or has stopped, notes MedlinePlus plus. You may also experience an unpleasant awareness of your own heartbeat. Though heart palpitations are usually not a cause for concern, it does depend on whether the palpitation represents an arrhythmia, or abnormal heartbeat. Arrhythmias are either fast or slow heartbeats; they can be caused by coronary artery disease, valve disorders, heart surgery, electrolyte imbalances, high blood pressure or other medical conditions.

Potential Causes

Causes for heart palpitations include anxiety, stress, panic attacks, exercise, fever, diet pills, illegal drugs, alcohol, nicotine and caffeine. Caffeine most commonly triggers heart palpitations when higher doses are consumed. Heart palpitations are extremely common and are known to come and go, notes the Harvard Medical School. Different people can experience varying frequency and severity when it comes to heart palpitations. Some people may have strong palpitations many times a day, while palpitations may be a rare occurrence for others.

Pinpointing the Source

Although heart palpitations are usually harmless, they can represent a more serious problem if they are due to an abnormal heartbeat or they are accompanied by dizziness or chest pains. If you believe caffeine is the source of your heart palpitations try reducing your caffeine intake or cutting out caffeine altogether as a way to positively identify the source of the problem. It may also be a good idea to simultaneously eliminate other common causes including alcohol and nicotine. If the problem persists your doctor can try to pin down the source by asking you a number of questions and using an electrocardiogram, which is a tool that can record the heart's electrical activity.

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