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Heart Palpitations After Eating

Heart Palpitations After Eating

Postprandial heart palpitations are often considered normal, and may be the result of food allergies and overeating as well as certain severe conditions and diseases. The current article gives a brief account of this condition with respect to the causes, accompanying symptoms and preventive measures.
Dr. Sumaiya Khan
Last Updated: May 20, 2018
Do You Have a 'Holiday Heart'?
Holiday heart syndrome refers to temporary irregular heartbeats and palpitations, in otherwise healthy individuals, especially during vacations or weekends.
Reason: Binge drinking!
Heart palpitation is a condition that involves increased heart rate, as a result of which, one can 'feel' the heartbeats, and is experienced as a pounding or fluttering sensation in the chest.

Palpitation is not only associated with heart diseases, but may also be a symptom of endocrine disorders, anxiety, stress, anemia, renal disorders, etc. Similarly, heart palpitations after eating may be due to reasons as simple as a heavy meal or may indicate the presence of severe disorders.
Is it Normal to Experience Palpitations After Meals?
After having a meal, the heart needs to pump more blood to the stomach and adjoining areas. Thus, it needs to bring about an increase in the blood supply to stomach so as to assist the process of digestion. This is important because such increased blood flow to the abdominal region immediately after a meal aids the digestion and assimilation of food. Hence, for some people, this routine activity of heart could manifest as palpitations. However, a high occurrence of such episodes demands medical attention and should not be considered normal, especially if accompanied with shortness of breath, dizziness, and fainting.
Symptoms that May Accompany Heart Palpitations
♦ Dizziness
♦ Fatigue
♦ Trembling of limbs
♦ Restlessness
♦ Chest pain
♦ Chest tightness
♦ Excessive sweating
♦ Shortness of breath
♦ Difficulty in falling asleep
Possible Causes
Heart flutters after eating can be attributed to a variety of reasons including food insensitivity, to severe conditions like hiatal hernia. Some of these are:
► Food Allergy
Foods like wheat, soy, eggs, dairy, fish and nuts are common triggers for allergic reactions. Such foods may also lead to a temporary increase in heart rate. The accompanying symptoms may include skin rash, swelling of tongue or facial tissues, and dizziness.

In many individuals, the consumption of Chinese food is followed by heart palpitation, sweating, chest pain, shortness of breath, and even throat inflammation. The collection of these symptoms is termed 'Chinese Restaurant Syndrome'. It has been attributed to an ingredient called monosodium glutamate (MSG), which is a commonly used flavor-enhancing food additive. However, there is no significant scientific evidence to support the fact that MSG is indeed the causative agent.
► High-fat diet
A meal rich in fats, sugars, and other carbohydrates, (especially consumed after a long period of hunger) often leads to temporary gastric distension. This affects the functioning of the vagus nerve, which innervates the stomach, heart as well as other organs, and plays an important role in lowering the heart rate. As a result, the person may experience a temporary increase in heart rate, which leads to fluttering in the chest as well as sweating and chest discomfort or pain. This is also a common manifestation in individuals suffering from bulimia nervosa, an eating disorder characterized by episodes of binge-eating.
► Caffeine
Excessive consumption of caffeine is another common trigger for heart palpitations. It stimulates epinephrine production, which in turn leads to increased heart rate. About 200-300 mg is considered normal (or moderate) for a daily consumption; however, exceeding this amount may lead to temporary palpitations and trembling. People sensitive to caffeine should strictly avoid the consumption of caffeinated products like tea, coffee and even chocolate.
► Alcohol
Binge drinking and a high number of binge episodes have long been associated with abnormal heart beats, and are also known to causemyocardial infarctions (heart attacks). Alcohol affects the contractile ability of the heart muscles, which leads to palpitation. Higher the frequency of such episodes, higher is the risk of permanent cardiac damage.
► Hypoglycemia
Iatrogenic hypoglycemia in diabetics, and reactive or postprandial hypoglycemia in certain non-diabetics, is characterized by a fall of blood glucose levels below 70 mg/dL, after the consumption of a high-carbohydrate meal. Such a decline leads to the release of epinephrine which reduces glucose utilization by peripheral tissues, stimulates hepatic glucose production, and also leads to an increase in the heart rate. This is manifested as palpitation, dizziness and trembling. In addition, one may also experience sweating, headache and blurred vision.

Hypoglycemia may also be the result of rapid gastric emptying, a condition characterized by the quick passage of undigested food from stomach to small intestine. In such individuals, symptoms like nausea,vomiting, abdominal cramping and fatigue may be present along with heart palpitations after eating.
► Hiatal Hernia
Hiatal hernia is a condition where a portion of stomach protrudes into the chest through the thoracic diaphragm. It can be the result of weakening of muscles owing to old age, obesity, smoking, congenital factors and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Such hiatal hernia often leads to irritation of the vagus nerve, which causes chest pain and racing heartbeats. It may be accompanied with heartburn, difficulty in swallowing and heavy breathing.
► Severe Anemia
Severely anemic people, with low hemoglobin and ferritin levels, have an increased risk of experiencing rapid heartbeats after meals, due to weakened heart muscles. This symptom is often accompanied withfatigue, easy tiring, drowsiness and dizziness.
► Obesity
Often, an overweight person, has a tendency to indulge in meals loaded with carbohydrates and fats, coupled with a lack of physical activity. In addition, obesity is accompanied with structural and functional changes in the heart muscles. As a result, obese individuals often experience racing heartbeats after consumption of meals. This is accompanied withdrowsiness and fatigue. Medical attention is utmost necessary if the person experiences radiating pain in the left arm, since it may be an indication of heart diseases.
► Hormonal Imbalance
Endocrine disorders are characterized by disruption in the balance and proportion of hormones in the body. This alters several metabolic functions, and affects the glucose and electrolyte levels of blood, which may lead to postprandial heart palpitations. People suffering from hyperthyroidism are especially at an increased risk of suffering from palpitations after a meal.
Treatment and Preventive Measures
Although there is no universal treatment for this condition, there are certain guidelines that one can follow to prevent this problem or reduce the frequency of such episodes.

» Eating moderate amounts of food at regular intervals is a much smarter option, rather than indulging in oddly-timed large meals. Regular meals in small portions help to energize the body on a timely basis and thus, prevent any sudden spurt of metabolic activity that may cause irregularities in the functioning of heart.
» Undergoing regular tests for hormone levels and iron levels in the body, is useful for women. Females are at an added risk of suffering from anemia and thyroid irregularities.
» Limiting the intake of sugars and coffee is advisable, especially for obese people as well as those suffering from heart diseases.
» Exercising regularly, especially in case of individuals engaged in sedentary jobs, goes a long way in maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

If palpitations and other symptoms worsen with time, it is best to undergo a cardiac investigation as recommended by an appropriate physician. As cliché as it may sound, a stress-free life is the key to enjoying good health, peace and longevity. One can keep a number of diseases at bay, simply by eliminating the stress factor, and following a healthy lifestyle which involves good and nutritious diet coupled with regular exercise.
This HealthHearty article is for informative purposes only, and should not be used as a substitute for professional medical advice.