Palpitations are one of the most common and distressing cardiac symptoms in long COVID-19 sufferers. While palpitations can be harmless or caused by everyday things like spicy food or coffee, they may also be a sign of serious problems in your cardiovascular system.
If you have been suffering heart palpitations after COVID-19 or are worried about long COVID-19 cardiac symptoms, read on. this article will tell you all about the signs of heart palpitations and when you should see your doctor.
What are palpitations?
Heart palpitations feel like an irregular or rapid heartbeat, as if your heart is pounding, racing, or fluttering. Patients may feel palpitations in their chest, neck, or throat.
Palpitations are a very common symptom that can be triggered by everyday activities like exercise, stress, medication, or even during rest, so they’re not necessarily harmful. However, in some cases, palpitations are a sign of a more serious medical condition, such as abnormal heart rhythms.
What causes palpitations?
A wide range of activities and things can cause palpitations, such as:
- Vigorous exercise
- Caffeine /li>
- Hormone changes due to menopause, pregnancy, or menstruation
- Anxiety, panic, depression, or stress
- Certain medications, such as beta blockers for high blood pressure or cardiovascular disease
- Recreational drugs, such as cocaine or methamphetamines
- Postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POST), a.k.a. abnormal heart rhythm after standing up
- Blood loss
- Low blood or carbon dioxide levels in the blood
- Thyroid problems
- Some cold medications, such as decongestants
These are just some of the many potential causes of palpitations. While some of these are harmless, telling your doctor about your experience on abnormal rhythms will inform you on what to do to help you overcome the condition. This will also help them confirm if a medical condition may be causing it.
When do people get palpitations?
You can get palpitations at many different times in your life and for different causes. Here are some common instances when people get palpitations:
- After eating or drinking: Some people experience palpitations after eating food that’s too rich or spicy. Consuming alcohol or caffeinated beverages like energy drinks or coffee can also cause palpitations.
- Emotional situations: Your body may react to stressful situations with symptoms like lightheadedness or palpitations.
- Too much bed rest due to a prolonged illness: Prolonged bed rest and inactivity can make even light or simple tasks feel tiring, causing an abnormal rise in your heart rate.
Palpitations in long COVID patients
Long COVID is known to be a strong risk factor for heart problems. Long COVID is a medical condition when patients continue to suffer COVID-19 symptoms weeks or even months after their initial infection.
While the full effects of long COVID-19 on the body are still being studied, research has shown that cardiovascular symptoms in those who develop long COVID may be caused by a cytokine storm. When your body is infected by COVID-19, your body’s immune response releases cytokines. Cytokines are a type of protein used by your cells to communicate and fight off infections.
However, in some cases, too many cytokines may be released by your immune system, causing inflammation and damaging healthy cells. This phenomenon is known as a cytokine storm. A COVID-19 cytokine storm can disrupt your heart’s normal rhythm, which can damage healthy heart tissue and cause heart symptoms in long COVID-19 sufferers.
Long COVID patients are also likely to experience palpitations as one of their heart symptoms due to prolonged bed rest. While recovering from a severe infection like COVID-19, you will typically be immobile for a long period of time. This lack of activity can get you out of shape, leaving you fatigued when you try to return to your daily activities.
The longer you were hospitalized for COVID-19, the more likely you are to experience palpitations. Don’t try resuming vigorous exercise immediately after being discharged, as this can put more stress on your body.
Post-COVID-19 patients should consult their doctor or a physical rehab specialist to determine their exercise capacity and create a fitness plan. If you exercise regularly, this may help reduce or eliminate your palpitations over time.
How long do palpitations last after COVID?
Palpitations can last weeks or even months after your initial illness. Current studies suggest that the risk of heart conditions, like a heart attack or coronary disease (build-up in arteries impeding blood flow), is significant even up to a year after COVID-19 infection. If you experience palpitations long after you have recovered from COVID-19, inform your doctor so they can run tests and determine the cause.
Complications due to palpitations
Palpitations can lead to a higher risk of developing the following cardiovascular symptoms:
- Heart failure: An irregular heart rhythm due to consistent palpitations can affect your blood flow and your heart’s ability to pump.
- Stroke: In some instances, your palpitations may be caused by atrial fibrillation, which impairs the heart’s ability to pump regularly. This can cause blood clots, which may block your arteries and potentially cause a stroke.
- Heart attack: In some rare cases, your palpitations may be caused by dangerous cardiovascular conditions like an arterial blockage. This can keep your heart from beating properly, causing a heart attack.
- Low blood pressure and fainting: An irregular heart rhythm can cause your blood pressure to drop rapidly, making you faint. This is a common heart rhythm complaint for those with pre-existing conditions like congenital heart disease.
When should I see my doctor?
Typically, you may not have to see your primary care doctor if your palpitations are infrequent and last only a few seconds. However, you will need to see your doctor and report any cardiac symptoms if you:
- Have worsening or more frequent palpitations
- Have a history of heart disease
- Are coping with long COVID-19
- Have recently recovered from a COVID-19 infection
Apart from palpitations, the following symptoms are a sign that long COVID-19 may have damaged your heart’s blood vessels or other tissue:
- Sudden chest pain
- High blood pressure
- Chronic fatigue
- Shortness of breath
Long COVID-19 affects many people in different ways, so it can be difficult to determine if your palpitations are being caused by heart damage due to COVID-19. See your doctor if you are a long COVID-19 patient experiencing the symptoms above, so they can determine the best course of medical diagnostics and treatment for your condition.
When talking to your healthcare provider about your palpitations, remember to mention the following details as these will help them determine the potential cause:
- Any medications and herbal supplements you are taking
- Diet, including caffeine and alcohol consumption
- Symptoms that accompany your palpitations, such as sweating or muscle aches
- Your medical history, including any pre-existing cardiovascular disease
- When and how often your palpitations occur
- The duration of your palpitations
- What you are doing before your palpitations start
- How you feel when your palpitations occur
- Any measures you take to feel better during your palpitations
What tests are done to diagnose palpitations?
Your doctor may ask for the following tests to be conducted to determine the cause of your palpitations:
- Electrocardiogram (ECG)
- Blood tests
- Urine tests
- Stress tests
- A heart ultrasound, also known as an echocardiogram
- A Holter monitor worn throughout a day or longer to monitor heart activity
You may also be referred to an electrophysiologist, a specialist in heart problems involving abnormal heartbeat and electrical activity.
What Aare the treatments for palpitations?
In many cases, palpitations won’t need treatment. However, if your palpitations are connected to heart problems like high blood pressure or suspected heart injury, your doctor may require you to:
- Take medication
- Undergo surgery or other procedures such as electrical cardioversion or cardiac ablation
- Implant a corrective device
If you undergo any of these treatments, don’t forget to follow up with your healthcare provider to report any improvements or side effects. This will help them determine the efficacy of your treatment and whether you need any additional medical care.
When should I seek urgent medical attention?
Call 911 or seek emergency medical help if your palpitations won’t stop or if you experience these symptoms:
- Difficulty in breathing
- Lips or face turning blue
- Dizziness and/or fainting
- Intense neck, upper back, jaw, arm, or chest pain
How can I stop palpitations?
If your palpitations are caused by an underlying medical condition like long COVID-19, your doctor may prescribe medication, treatment, or procedures as needed. However, if your palpitations are caused by other circumstances, the following measures may cause a significant improvement and stop palpitations:
- Avoiding food and drink that induce palpitations, including caffeine and alcohol
- Avoiding or limiting nicotine consumption and/or smoking
- Doing regular workouts to improve exercise capacity and rebuild muscle loss
- Reducing stress and anxiety through yoga, meditation, and deep-breathing techniques
The bottom line
Palpitations are a distressing symptom that is common in patients who develop long COVID. When accompanied by other symptoms like chest pain or shortness of breath, they may indicate heart problems and a higher risk of developing conditions like a heart attack.
If you continue to experience palpitations long after you have had COVID-19, you may have long COVID. Talk to your healthcare provider so they can conduct tests and prescribe any necessary treatments.
Learn more about long COVID or Post-COVID and get all the support your need. Talk to us and discover healing tools that you will be needing in your journey to COVID recovery.