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What You Need To Know About Heart Palpitations and Thyroid Health

When I was dealing with Graves’ disease, one of the most prominent symptoms I experienced was heart palpitations.  The same is true with many of my patients with hyperthyroidism and Graves’ disease, although occasionally I’ll also have people with hypothyroidism and Hashimoto’s tell me that they’re experiencing palpitations.  While thyroid hormone imbalances can cause heart palpitations, there can be numerous other causes.  In this blog post I’ll discuss many of these causes, when you should be concerned about heart palpitations, and towards the end I’ll discuss some natural treatment solutions.

It makes sense to begin by discussing what palpitations are.  Here are some common descriptions of heart palpitations (1) [1]:

The good news is that the cause of palpitations is usually benign, although sometimes they can be a sign of a life-threatening condition.  Many people get diagnosed with hyperthyroidism because of the heart palpitations they’re experiencing.  In other words, prior to getting diagnosed with hyperthyroidism, many people will decide to get checked by a medical doctor mainly because they’re experiencing heart palpitations, and will then find out that they have hyperthyroidism.

My situation was different, as prior to being diagnosed with hyperthyroidism I was losing a lot of weight and had an increased appetite, but it was an elevated resting heart rate that led me to schedule an appointment with a medical doctor who ended up diagnosing me with hyperthyroidism (and referred me to the endocrinologist who diagnosed me with Graves’ disease).  In the opening paragraph I mentioned how my heart palpitations were prominent, but I really didn’t start noticing them until after I was diagnosed.

What Can Cause Heart Palpitations?

Let’s take a look at some of the different factors that can cause heart palpitations.  You’ll notice that some of these are actual conditions (i.e. hyperthyroidism), but I’ve listed other factors as well, such as consuming too much caffeine.  It’s worth mentioning that these aren’t listed based on the frequency of occurrence.  For example, hyperthyroidism is listed first not because it’s the most common cause of heart palpitations, but because I work with a lot of people with hyperthyroidism.

When Are Palpitations a Concern?

I mentioned earlier how most heart palpitations are benign.  Many of my patients with hyperthyroidism and Graves’ disease experience heart palpitations, and while I can’t say that there isn’t a concern in these situations, correcting the hyperthyroidism will almost always resolve the heart palpitations.  It’s also worth mentioning that anxiety is very common in people with hyperthyroidism, and so this can also be a factor.  There are times when heart palpitations are related to an underlying cardiac condition, including an arrhythmia.  One should especially be concerned when someone has symptoms such as perspiration, fainting, alternating headaches, and vertigo or chest pain, as these can be indications of weak or irregular heart function which must be seriously examined (2) [8].

Regarding my patients with hyperthyroidism and Graves’ disease, I’m more concerned with the elevated resting heart rate.  After all, it’s the elevated heart rate that is a risk factor for the development of an arrhythmia/atrial fibrillation [9].  Fortunately, upon decreasing the thyroid hormone levels there usually is a reduction of both the resting heart rate and palpitations.

Evaluation of Heart Palpitations

As I mentioned earlier, I commonly encounter patients with heart palpitations, which isn’t surprising since many of my patients have hyperthyroidism and Graves’ disease.  If someone didn’t experience heart palpitations until they developed hyperthyroidism, then one can usually assume that the heart palpitations were related to the elevated thyroid hormone levels.  However, it still is important to conduct a comprehensive health history and physical examination to rule out other causes or contributing factors.

For example, I mentioned how anemia and electrolyte imbalances can cause heart palpitations.  As a result, in addition to getting a thyroid panel, it is wise for everyone with any health condition to get a complete blood count (with differential) and comprehensive metabolic panel.  It’s also important to find out what medications the person is taking, if they consume caffeine on a regular basis, find out if they’re consuming alcohol, etc.  Adrenal testing can determine if they have elevated cortisol levels that are causing or contributing to the heart palpitations.

There of course are times when further evaluation of the heart is required.  For example, if someone is considered to be a high risk for an arrhythmia then an ambulatory EKG monitoring device might be indicated, such as a Holter monitor.  This is a 24-hour monitoring device worn by the patient.  Echocardiograms are commonly recommended for patients in whom structural heart disease is a concern.

Conventional Treatments for Heart Palpitations

Conventional treatments for heart palpitations depend on the cause.  For example, if someone has hyperthyroidism then the person will usually be told to take antithyroid medication [10] and/or beta blockers, although many endocrinologists will recommend for their hyperthyroid patients to permanently ablate the thyroid gland through radioactive iodine [11].  If the heart palpitations are caused by something other than hyperthyroidism then this may be addressed by the medical doctor.

Natural Treatment Solutions for Heart Palpitations

While conventional treatment methods are sometimes necessary, of course the goal of a natural treatment approach is to address the underlying cause of the problem.  However, while doing this the person might need to take medication and/or herbs to help manage the symptoms.  For example, when I was dealing with Graves’ disease I took the herb bugleweed to help lower the thyroid hormone levels, and because I still experienced heart palpitations I ended up adding motherwort.  Both of these herbs don’t do anything to address the underlying cause of the condition, but instead manage the symptoms.

What I’d like to do is first list some things you can do to address the cause of heart palpitations, and then I’ll discuss some specific herbs which can help with the symptoms while one is addressing the cause.

Herbs That Can Help With Heart Palpitations

I just want to let you know that the list of herbs below isn’t all inclusive, as there can be other herbs, as well as nutrients that can potentially help to reduce heart palpitations.

What’s Your Experience With Heart Palpitations?

If you have dealt with heart palpitations (or currently deal with them) please share your experience in the comments section below.  Were your palpitations caused by hyperthyroidism, hypothyroidism, or something else?  What helped to reduce your heart palpitations?  Thank you for sharing your experience!