I HAVE been hearing from several people who have been experiencing palpitations after recovering from Covid.

Some have experienced odd sensations in their chest during the acute phase of the infection, but most have felt them come on several weeks later. It has in fact become one of the many reported symptoms of long Covid so let’s do a deeper dive into what palpitations actually are and what they could mean.

The term palpitation describes a more noticeable heartbeat. The sensations can range from mild flutters in the chest to irregular beats or even a pounding of the heart. Sometimes these feelings can last a few seconds, but they can go on for several minutes at a time in some cases too. There are often times where people will feel palpitations in their neck or throat, but the good news is that in most cases, these are nothing to worry about.

Some common causes for palpitations include lifestyle factors which when modified can stop them from happening. These include stress, sleep deprivation, alcohol, smoking, exercise, dehydration and caffeinated drinks like tea, coffee or energy juice.

All these triggers place extra strain on the heart and therefore cutting back on these or avoiding them altogether can lead to an improvement in symptoms.

A good way to track palpitations is to keep a diary of when they mostly happen, what you are doing around the time they come on, how long they last for and see if you can identify a pattern.

Also, try tapping out the rhythm and beat of your heart – is it regular or is it skipping beats and irregular? This lets you be the detective and is vital information you can pass on to your GP so we can investigate it further.

Some medication side effects can also trigger palpitations as well as hormonal changes eg pregnancy, periods and the menopause.

However, we do need to take palpitations seriously because although most cases are harmless and tend to resolve spontaneously or through lifestyle modifications, there are more serious underlying causes that must be excluded.

Ongoing and regular palpitations could be a sign of an underlying heart condition where the rhythm becomes irregular and if left unmanaged can place significant strain on the heart.

The most common arrhythmia (rhythm abnormality) is atrial fibrillation where the heart beats faster than normal but also, when tapped out, beats all over the place.

There are other arrhythmias too and they can present with other symptoms such as shortness of breath, dizziness, blackouts, feeling faint or even chest pains.

Structural heart problems where the muscles of the heart or the valves are faulty can also trigger palpitations, so it is important to always seek medical help as soon as you become aware of any irregularities so we can investigate them.

We are still learning about long Covid, but viral infections can trigger an inflammatory process in the heart which can cause palpitations. The mechanism of how Covid impacts the heart is still unknown but shortness of breath and palpitations are emerging as common side effects.

So, what would happen if you contacted your GP? We would take a full history and this is where any tracking information would help.

Palpitations can be a sign of other health conditions too such as anaemia, poorly controlled blood sugars, blood pressure, infection and thyroid disorders, so we would do a full physical examination as well as run blood tests.

We would organise for an ECG and refer for further cardiology input if we could not find out and manage the cause.

It is important to note though that if you develop sudden palpitations and have severe shortness of breath, chest pain, dizziness or blackouts – this warrants urgent medical attention and you would need to call 999.

We use the word palpitations quite flippantly sometimes; however we are seeing a rise in people presenting with palpitations so please do take them seriously and if you are ever worried, speak to your GP.