Heart palpitations are the sensation of rapid, fluttering, or pounding heartbeats.
Common causes of heart palpitations include anxiety, stress, exercise, caffeine, nicotine, fever, hormonal changes in women (due to pregnancy, menses, or menopause) and certain medications.
Heart palpitations may sometimes be a sign of an underlying disorder such as hyperthyroidism or abnormal heart rhythm (arrhythmia).
Heart palpitations are often harmless, although in Chinese medicine they are usually a sign of an underlying imbalance that may lead to potential health problems down the road.
Chinese medicine sees different causes for palpitations. The symptoms that accompany the palpitations often point to the underlying disease pattern. Here are some of the different patterns which may cause heart palpitations:
Prolonged emotional upset such as apprehension, fright or excessive anger may cause dysfunction of the liver and kidneys, or cause a disruption in the body’s balance of yin and yang.
As a result, the energy of the heart and gallbladder can become weakened and the mind becomes scattered.
In this case, the palpitations may be accompanied by restlessness, timidity, insomnia, excessive dreaming, feeble, rapid or slow irregular pulse and emotional unrest such as anxiety, panic, or phobias.
Undernourishment of the heart caused by prolonged illness, anxiety and overstrain, or deficiency of blood due to blood loss, can also lead to heart palpitations.
In this case, the heart palpitations may be accompanied by fatigue, pale complexion, insomnia, poor memory and dizziness.
Prolonged illness, overwork or overstrain or childbirth can deplete the body and lead to kidney yin deficiency.
When kidney yin is deficient, this causes an excess of heat or fire to flare up and disturb the heart and mind, resulting in palpitations.
Palpitations in this case may be accompanied by agitation, restlessness, insomnia, dizziness, lower back pain, tinnitus and sweaty palms and feet.
A serious or long-standing disease may consume and weaken yang qi-energy so that the heart and blood vessels are not properly warmed and nourished.
Heart palpitations due to deficiency of heart yang would be accompanied by restlessness, shortness of breath, chest distress, pale complexion and cold limbs.
In addition, deficiency of spleen and kidney yang can create fluid that will obstruct heart yang and cause heart palpitations with dizziness, a feeling of fullness in the chest, nausea, salivation and edema.
Heart palpitations are an example of how Chinese medicine takes into account all symptoms that a person experiences in order to make a very detailed diagnosis, which in turn allows the acupuncturist to make a much more effective and tailored treatment plan.
Often a symptom may have very different causes in different people. As we can see, heart palpitations can be due to lifestyle factors such as stress and overwork, or it can be due to a prolonged illness or chronic condition, both of which can weaken the body and disrupt its normal functioning.
With acupuncture, we aim to strengthen and correct the body so that it is functioning in a more healthy state.
This helps to resolve the many symptoms that can result, in this case heart palpitations, but also things such as our sleep, energy, immune system, digestion and emotions.
With acupuncture treatments, not only can we resolve the heart palpitations, but the patient will typically also see an improvement in other symptoms and in overall health.
James Kaufman is a registered acupuncturist at Okanagan Acupuncture Centre in Kelowna.