Chris’s morning had been calm so far. Which felt like a gift since she’d been go-go-GO for months since her mom died suddenly and her dad began to need more frequent care. 

This morning her partner offered to take both kids to school and to pick up her dad’s new meds from the drug store on the way home. “That is love,” she mused, a smile stealing into her lips. The luxury of time was with her this morning and Chris relished it as she inhaled the deep, roasty aroma of her second cup and enjoyed a sip of coffee at the thought of a slightly longer shower this morning.

Before she was able to swallow, she felt a ...flutter… a light, faint beat in her chest. It didn’t hurt, but it definitely called her attention to her heart. “Was that a flutter in my heart?” She set down the cup, put her hand to the middle of her chest, and focused her attention on her heart area.

There it was again. What is that? It felt like there were a couple of caffeinated butterflies trapped in a grapefruit-sized organ. Fluttering. That was definitely a heart flutter. Definitely irregular. Usually, Chris wouldn’t ever think about her heart or how it beats… it just does it, like it has her whole life. Until this morning, this soft, faint beat caught her attention.

Chris is 44. She doesn’t smoke, takes no prescription medicines, walks two miles almost every day, is in pretty good health overall, recently experienced a significant loss, is entering perimenopause, and just experienced a heart palpitation.

Hormones, heart health, and perimenopause or menopause

An important thing to share first is how hormone estrogen plays a role in heart health. It’s a biggie. 

Estrogen’s fluctuation and decline over time, as a person enters perimenopause and moves on to menopause, affects nearly all of the body’s systems in some way: reproductive systems, yes… but also eyes, bones, lungs, and hearts too.

In the heart, specifically the inner layer of the artery wall, estrogen is believed to help keep blood vessels flexible and able to relax and expand to accommodate blood flow. A fluctuation and decrease in estrogen, therefore, may mean less flexibility and less accommodation. Blood pumps through the heart and carries oxygen and nutrients to systems throughout your body. We all want, need and deserve healthy hearts, and menopause is one stage where more attention is needed on the heart than perhaps it was given in previous years.

Are heart palpitations a precursor to heart disease?

According to the Mayo Clinic, heart palpitations are usually harmless, though they can be surprising or even alarming to experience. As mentioned, occasionally, there can be a more serious, underlying cause. But heart palpitations on their own aren’t usually dangerous.

Heart disease, however, is another subject. 

Did you know that heart disease is the leading killer of women? So shares the Center for Disease Control and Prevention

  • Heart disease is the leading cause of death for women in the United States, killing 299,578 women in 2017—or about 1 in every 5 female deaths.
  • Heart disease is the leading cause of death for African American and white women in the United States. Among American Indian and Alaska Native women, heart disease and cancer cause roughly the same number of deaths each year. For Hispanic and Asian or Pacific Islander women, heart disease is second only to cancer as a cause of death.

What does a heart palpitation feel like?

There are a few different ways a heart palpitation can present: 

  • Flutter: often a faint, or soft-feeling, quick beat
  • Rapid heartbeat: sudden racing heart, similar to a fast motor
  • Pounding heartbeat: hard heartbeats, similar to a drum that’s being played hard and loud
  • Irregular or flip-flopping heartbeat: often this is described as a slightly delayed heartbeat or skipped beat

Heart palpitations can draw awareness to your chest, of course, but you may also notice palpitations further up in your throat or neck.

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Usually, heart palpitations are harmless and will go away on their own. And there are some cases where a larger issue is underlying or causing heart palpitations. 

How can I prevent heart palpitations?

This can be an alarming symptom in perimenopause and menopause. It’s understandable to want to prevent them from happening at all.

Before you assume it’s probably stress, or could be perimenopause, check in with your doctor (or get a phone appointment with one of our doctors). If you’re uncomfortable with heart palpitations, it’s worth getting checked out to make sure there’s nothing underlying this new symptom. Your doctor may suggest you have some tests (such as an electrocardiogram (EKG) or echocardiogram), or suggest getting some blood work done (perhaps to check cholesterol and magnesium and other levels).

Some triggers to be mindful of in your daily life may include:

  • High stress and anxiety levels and panic attacks
  • Some medications, both prescription and over-the-counter, may have side effects that prompt heart palpitations
  • Strenuous exercise
  • Stimulants such as nicotine, caffeine, amphetamines, cocaine
  • Fatigue

Your ticker is worthy of excellent care and extremely valuable as an ever-pumping muscle in your body. So, let’s talk about you, personally for a moment.

Menopause coaching and support is here for you, right now. Get your HealthFix.

What do you know about your heart health right now?

  • How is your general, overall health?
  • Where are you on your menopause journey? Not sure? Take our Menopause Assessment and find out.
  • When was the last time you had a physical exam, including bloodwork, with your doctor?
  • Do you have a history — or herstory — of heart disease or stroke in your family?
  • How is your stress level lately? What can you do today to lower or decrease it?

Consider jotting down some responses in your phone or on paper, plus any questions that may arise as you think about your responses to the above prompts. Talk with your blood relatives if you don’t know your family history, and bring your notes and any additional questions about your heart and your health to your next doctor’s appointment.

Have you ever experienced a rapid heartbeat, heart palpitation, or a heart flutter? Join the Gennev Community Forums and review others’ experiences and share your own. You’re not alone.