• Heart feels as though it is beating harder or faster than usual.
• Fluttering or thumping in the chest, with an alarming sensation as though the heart has stopped beating.
• Possible faintness and breathlessness.
Heartbeat is controlled by the autonomic nervous system. If nerve impulses are disrupted, the heart will continue beating, but at its own, usually slower rate. The most common form of palpitation—usually experienced at rest—is caused by ectopic heartbeats, when a premature beat is followed by an unusually long pause. This feels like a thumping or fluttering in the chest, and is not usually indicative of heart disease. It is caused by stimulants—for example large amounts of caffeine or heavy smoking. Palpitations with an irregular heartbeat may be symptomatic of heart disease. They may also be caused by an overactive thyroid gland, high fever, food allergy, and certain recreational drugs, such as amphetamines or cocaine. Palpitations may be a side-effect of some prescribed drugs, particularly those that regulate blood pressure, or they may be triggered by anxiety.
Treatment depends on the underlying cause. Investigations may include 24-hour electrocardiograms (ECGs) to explore the level of electrical activity in the heart, and thyroid-function tests to identify gland disorders. Appropriate drug therapy will follow. In extreme cases, a normal heart rhythm may have to be re-established using cardioversion (electric shocks).
In addition to an individual’s medical history, a homeopath will consider emotional state, any local aggravating factors, such as the effects of cold air or physical exhaustion, and food preferences. Prescription of constitutional remedies will be largely determined by specific symptoms, but some remedies have an affinity with the heart. Agaricus is associated with heart irregularities induced by stimulants. Apis is indicated for organic heart disease accompanied by fluid retention. China is associated with nervous exhaustion. Conium is effective for an incompetent mitral valve, and Kali. carb. is indicated if there are associated respiratory problems such as asthma. Other remedies include Argentum nit., Aurum met., Calc. carb., Lachesis, Nat. mur., Nux vomica, Phosphorus, Sepia, and Sulphur.
Acute attacks are also treated according to specific symptoms. Remedies include Aconite, if onset is sudden, especially after shock, with a fear of dying; and Nux vomica, if palpitations result from overindulgence, or if there is physical and mental exhaustion with overarousal from doing too much, chilliness, and irritability. Digitalis is given for palpitations preceding a feeling as though the heart has stopped, with a fear that the least movement might make it stop again; and Lachesis is prescribed for menopausal women who feel faint and anxious, and complain of a constricted feeling in the chest.
Smoking is inadvisable, and those who consume large amounts of caffeine should reduce their intake. The diet should be low in fat and refined carbohydrates, and high in oily fish and vegetarian proteins. A nutritionist can advise about possible food allergy, but it is worth eliminating suspected triggers from the diet. Plenty of rest, sleep, and relaxation techniques or meditation are advisable. Time-management techniques can help to reduce stress levels.
Clare, a credit controller, age 37, had a two-month history of palpitations. She described thuds in her chest—three a minute or one every two minutes—at any time of day. She had cut out caffeine and increased the amount of oats in her diet, but neither helped. She felt worse for stress. An ECG was normal. She had been referred to a cardiologist, and prescribed a beta blocker, which helped a good deal. She was taking an oral contraceptive and was a nonsmoker.
Clare was a nervous person, concerned about what others were thinking and, in her view, not tough enough. She was easily offended, but bottled up her feelings. She resented what she considered to be bad treatment by her mother-in-law.
Clare liked sweet foods, vinegar, and spices, and especially chocolate and carbonated drinks. She disliked herbal teas.
Clare was better for sun and heat. She slept six hours a night and awoke unrefreshed. She complained of a poor memory, a lack of energy since puberty, split ends, brittle nails, cold extremities, and loose bowel movements when she was anxious.
PRESCRIPTION & FOLLOW-UP
On her first visit Clare was given Staphisagria, and it was suggested that she write a letter to her mother-in-law airing her grievances, but that she did not mail it. She was also advised not to take the contraceptive pill. By her next visit, four weeks later, the cardiologist had confirmed that there was no heart disease. The palpitations were less frequent and less severe, and Clare’s energy levels were higher. She was put on mineral supplements and seen a month later. She had not had any palpitations, felt much less stressed, and was sleeping better, although she was restless, and had become insecure and fastidious. She had also developed a craving for fats. After being prescribed Arsen. alb., Clare had no further problems. She now takes no medication other than the contraceptive pill.