If you’ve ever had a fluttering sensation in your chest or felt like your heart has “skipped a beat,” then you’ve probably experienced what’s medically defined as a heart palpitation. Although there are many causes of palpitations, most of us don’t realize that consumption of alcohol is a contributor. Let’s take a closer look at what palpitations are and how alcohol is involved.
Heart palpitations can be defined as unpleasant sensations of irregular and/or forceful beating of the heart. Palpitations can also include an irregular heart rate, meaning your heart beats faster or slower than the normal 50 to 100 beats per minute. Although the reason for some palpitations is unknown, most are caused by arrhythmia, which is defined as an abnormal rate of muscle contractions in the heart.
The types of arrhythmia that cause palpitations include the following: rapid heart rate (greater than 100 beats per minute) called tachycardias; irregular heart beats referred to as fibrillations; premature heartbeat (which feels like a forceful heartbeat), also known as premature contraction, and finally, abnormalities in the structure of the heart. Most types of arrhythmia are not life threatening, but you need to consult with a doctor to determine the cause.
There are many things that can lead to arrhythmia including heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, overactive thyroid gland, smoking, drug abuse, stress, medications and caffeine to name a few. Also included is the use of alcohol, regardless of whether it’s consumed once in awhile or on a regular basis, or whether it’s one drink or several. If you've experienced arrhythmia, it's important to realize that any use of alcohol can increase the likelihood of your experiencing these effects in the future, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Alcohol can not only aggravate pre-existing symptoms of arrhythmia, but can cause them as well. It depletes the body of magnesium, which is essential for normal heart rhythm. Because it is a diuretic, it can lead to dehydration, which adversely affects the electrolytes necessary for proper heart function. If a person has consumed moderate amounts of alcohol and then experiences occasional flutters, thumps or skipped heartbeats, it’s normally not a cause for concern.
If you experience heart palpitations, it’s always advisable to seek the counsel of a physician to rule out any serious problems. If you are diagnosed with an illness that causes arrhythmia, chances are that alcohol consumption may contribute to that uncomfortable feeling associated with palpitations. Of the many contributors to heart arrhythmias, alcohol intake is definitely one that can be controlled. Lastly, if you’ve been given a clean bill of health by your doctor and then consume alcohol and feel symptoms of heart palpitations, realize that most drinkers experience this discomfort, even after light alcohol consumption.