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The medical term for the heart "skipping a beat" is extrasystole, though many people refer to this as a heart palpitation. While these episodes may be worrisome, they are generally harmless, and the organ quickly regains a healthy rhythm. A variety of health conditions and minor factors can contribute to extrasystoles.

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Excess Adrenaline

The medulla in the brain releases adrenaline into the blood in response to danger. This causes the blood vessels to contract, the palms to sweat, and the heart to race. The idea is to give the body a power boost, so it can be ready to fight or run. However, sometimes the body produces excessive amounts of the hormone for other reasons -- often a primary medical condition -- and this can lead to a cascade of problems. Without any way to expend that extra energy, excess adrenaline causes anxiety and spikes in blood pressure and heartbeat, triggering an extrasystole.

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Smoking

People might smoke to ease stress, but smoking is a cause of significant stress on the body. Nicotine is a stimulant; it increases heart rate and blood pressure, both of which can trigger palpitations. However, nicotine withdrawal also comes with a risk of palpitations when the body attempts to break the addiction.

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High Potassium

Potassium is an electrolyte that helps the heart move blood through the body. Not only is it vital to the electrical function of the heart, but it is also necessary to the kidneys, muscles, and nerves, all of which affect the cardiovascular system. Too much potassium in the blood (hyperkalemia), which can occur for various reasons, triggers palpitations and cardiac rhythm abnormalities including heart-stopping ventricular fibrillation.

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Cardiomyopathy

Cardiomyopathy is the abnormal enlargement of the heart due to the organ's inability to pump blood efficiently. As a result, the kidneys cannot filter blood properly, causing fluid retention that leads to congestion and swelling, especially in the arms and legs. Cardiomyopathy may not have any symptoms, or they may be mistaken for other issues. As the condition worsens, individuals can experience shortness of breath and fatigue and develop an arrhythmia that causes extrasystole heartbeats, dizziness, and fainting.

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High Blood Calcium

Calcium helps maintain strong bones and teeth, in addition to helping the muscles, blood vessels, and nerves work to full capacity. The mineral is also an electrolyte that helps keep blood pressure under control. However, too much calcium in the blood, hypercalcemia, causes weakened bones, kidney stones, and cardiac problems. Coronary artery calcium (CAC) tests the level of calcium in the heart. Too much in the artery walls raises the risk of atherosclerotic plaque build-up, while blood with excess calcium causes heart malfunctions including palpitations.

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Lack of Sleep and Exhaustion

A 2016 study reported lack of sleep, due to factors such as insomnia and sleep apnea, increases one's risk of developing atrial fibrillation or AFib, an arrhythmia that causes heart palpitations. Some people with the condition describe it as a quivering sensation in the chest or feeling as if the heart is skipping a beat. Other symptoms include decreased blood pressure and a racing heart.

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Illicit and Prescription Drugs

Both illicit and prescription drugs can cause heart palpitations. This reaction may indicate an underlying condition or that an individual is sensitive to a certain medication. Prescription or over-the-counter drugs may contain stimulants such as amphetamines or caffeine and can induce extrasystole. Illegal drugs like cocaine can cause acute cardiac symptoms, including chest pain and palpitations.

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High Blood Pressure

Doctors call high blood pressure "the silent killer," because it usually has no symptoms until the body has incurred extensive damage. The exertion placed on the heart because of increased blood pressure may cause palpitations as well as diastolic dysfunction, both of which lead to arrhythmias. Extrasystole and hypertension are a potentially dangerous combination, and wear on the heart can be life-threatening if untreated.

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Too Much Carbon Dioxide

Carbon dioxide is a by-product of many of the body’s processes, including breathing. More than 45 mmHg of carbon dioxide in the blood is classified as hypercapnia, a secondary sign of a more serious condition such as respiratory disease or failure. Depending on the underlying cause, too much CO2 in the blood can cause increased heart rate, abnormal muscle twitching, and palpitations or extrasystole.

Hypercapnia carbon-dioxide Shidlovski / Getty Images
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Sarcoidosis

Sarcoidosis is the growth of inflammatory cell clusters or granulomas. While they can grow anywhere in the body, granulomas generally develop in the lungs and lymph nodes. This disease can also form lesions on the heart, which can lead to arrhythmias and palpitations. Doctors sometimes misdiagnose these symptoms as indicative of panic disorders, which can result in a diagnosis of neurosarcoidosis, a rare manifestation of the disease.

Sarcoidosis Hailshadow / Getty Images

Disclaimer

This site offers information designed for educational purposes only. You should not rely on any information on this site as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, treatment, or as a substitute for, professional counseling care, advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any concerns or questions about your health, you should always consult with a physician or other healthcare professional.