Ordinarily we are not aware of the beating of our hearts. If you do become conscious of the heart’s beating, the symptom may have significance but often is unimportant. Many letters come to doctors who write health columns from people who say they have noticed that their hearts were flopping, skipping, pounding, bumping or fluttering.
If you run too hard or engage in too much muscular activity an extra burden is put on your heart, and you may feel it pounding. As soon as you have “caught your breath,” the sensation disappears. When the heart beats too rapidly, as it does in excessive action of the thyroid or in other disturbances, you become aware of it. People seem to be conscious of sudden alterations in the heart rate. Different people respond differently to various conditions that affect the body. Those who are placid may pass without noticing a situation that will seriously disturb a person who is sensitive to minor stimulations.
Palpitation may be due to sudden alterations of the heart rate, particularly in cases when the heart beats too rapidly; this condition in turn may be due to excessive action of the thyroid gland. Anemia, hemorrhage, fever, and a lessened amount of sugar in the blood are other conditions in which palpitations occur. In such instances an excess of epinephrine secreted by the adrenal gland may be basically responsible. Many people who complain of palpitation constantly swallow air while eating too rapidly; when the stomach is distended they become conscious of the beating of the heart.
Many people described as nervous and who have nothing physically wrong complain of palpitations. These people have a cardiac neurosis in which their minds are centered on their heart action. The suspicion that one has heart disease may set up or intensify such a neurosis. A doctor can find out the facts, and thus cure both the neurosis and the palpitation which arises from it.