Anxiety & Heart Problems: 6 Signs of Arrhythmias

February 15, 2024

If you’ve ever felt anxious, you know that it has a physical impact. Being worried can make you nauseous. It can also keep you up all night tossing and turning.

Or you may be so flooded with nervous energy that you can’t sit still. You might even feel your heart skip a beat (palpitations) or get an alert from your smartwatch that you have an irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia).

Some people are born with heart conditions that cause irregular heartbeats and might not know it. Others develop an irregular heartbeat later in life.

Risk factors include obesity, sleep apnea and excess alcohol. Stress can also impact how well your heart works.

The danger? An abnormal heartbeat can reduce blood flow, cutting off oxygen to vital organs.

Can heart palpitations be caused by anxiety?

Anxiety can cause palpitations, which feel like your heart is skipping beats or racing for no reason. It’s scary, especially if you think you’re about to have a heart attack. But for most people, arrhythmias aren’t life-threatening, says Demetrio Castillo, MD, an electrophysiologist (EP) at Memorial Cardiac and Vascular Institute.

Research shows that your heartbeat is most affected by negative emotions such as:

  • Anger
  • Depression
  • Stress

When you have these emotions, your adrenal glands release hormones, including adrenaline. This gets your body ready for the fight-flight-or-freeze response that’s important to survival. Your heart races, your chest tightens and your breathing gets faster. And the likelihood that your heartbeat will get out rhythm increases.

6 Arrhythmia Symptoms

“Some people have an irregular heartbeat and don’t know it until they black out and wind up in the hospital,” says Dr. Castillo. Even if you don’t experience an odd-feeling heartbeat, you could still have arrhythmias. Early warning signs include:

1. Heart flutters or fast beating

Many people can sense an irregular heartbeat. You may feel that:

  • Your heart is beating in your throat.
  • You have a racing heart rate, as if you’ve been exercising.
  • There’s fluttering or pounding in your chest.

2. Lightheadedness or dizziness

When an irregular heartbeat lasts longer, you may become woozy. And if your heartbeat is out of sync, your heart is less effective at pumping blood. Reduced blood flow to the brain can make you feel lightheaded or dizzy.

3. Weakness and fatigue

Not being able to do things you once did easily is a red flag that something may be wrong with your heart. You may feel weak and physically exhausted if your heart isn’t pumping enough blood. A sudden loss of energy is a sign that something is wrong.

4. Breathlessness

It’s one thing to get out of breath running if you haven’t exercised in eons. But having trouble breathing with mundane tasks is cause for concern, explains Dr. Castillo. “For instance, you now get severely winded walking down half an aisle in the grocery store.”

5. Chest pain

Some people with an irregular heartbeat have pain in their chest due to a lack of normal blood flow (angina). But chest pain can also be a symptom of a heart attack, panic attack, anxiety or other problems like lung infections.

6. Fainting

“If you pass out, have your heart evaluated,” says Dr. Castillo. “It’s never normal to faint. It could just be dehydration or exhaustion. But you should have some basic testing done whenever you lose consciousness.”

Healthy Ways to Manage Stress

It’s important for everyone to manage stress levels, but especially those with heart concerns. Make it a priority to find enjoyable ways to take a mental breather. You can:

  • Go outside and get some fresh air
  • Exercise to release pent-up energy
  • Talk to friends and family
  • Practice meditation, mindfulness or breathing exercises
  • Talk to a mental healthcare provider
  • Listen to your favorite music

When to Worry About Heart Palpitations

Anytime your heart is misfiring, you should have it evaluated by your healthcare provider. Most of the time, it’s a quick, passing occurrence. But if you have more than just the rare, odd feeling in your chest — that is, it happens frequently, or you have additional symptoms — don’t put off seeing your provider. And seek urgent care if you’ve fainted.

Schedule an Appointment for Heart and Vascular Services

Learn more about heart and vascular services at Memorial Cardiac and Vascular Institute. To schedule an appointment with a cardiologist, electrophysiologist, or vascular specialist at Memorial, call 855-400-6284.