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Heart Health

Be still, my beating heart

By , Executive Editor, Harvard Heart Letter

Heart "hiccups" are usually harmless. But sometimes, an odd heart rhythm signals a more serious problem.

photo of a stethoscope laid on top of an echocardiogram printout

Have you ever felt like your heart is skipping, racing, or flip-flopping in your chest? Nearly everyone experiences heart palpitations-an awareness of an abnormal heartbeat-once in a while.

"There are many circumstances during which you might notice your heartbeat when nothing's actually wrong," says Harvard Medical School professor Dr. Peter Zimetbaum, director of clinical cardiology at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. For example, a small surge of adrenaline triggered by a strong emotion such as excitement, fear, or anger may cause your heart to beat faster or more forcefully than normal. So can exercise, caffeine, and certain medical conditions and medications (see "Possible palpitation triggers"). Sometimes people report palpitations when they lie on their left side. In that position, the heartbeat reverberates inside the chest, making it more noticeable, says Dr. Zimetbaum.

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About the Author

photo of Julie Corliss

Julie Corliss, Executive Editor, Harvard Heart Letter

Julie Corliss is the executive editor of the Harvard Heart Letter. Before working at Harvard, she was a medical writer and editor at HealthNews, a consumer newsletter affiliated with The New England Journal of Medicine. She … See Full Bio
View all posts by Julie Corliss


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