What Are Those Butterflies In Your Chest?

Wow, that passionate kiss just caused a "butterfly" in your chest. The same sensation occurs when you watch a scary movie or finish a strenuous workout.

After a second or two, it fades away.

What happens, though, when the chest flutters last longer or, even worse, occur for no reason at all?

Anxiety or stress is the root of most chest butterflies - also referred to as heart palpitations - according to Jason Palermo, MD, a Virtua cardiologist.

"Stress or anxiety can stimulate a surge of adrenaline in the body," says Dr. Palermo. "The adrenaline rush will produce a faster and stronger than normal heartbeat. That's when you get the feeling of a butterfly or flutter in the chest."

Other causes for chest flutters may include:

  • Caffeine
  • Alcohol
  • Smoking
  • Exercise
  • Fever
  • Over-the-counter medications such as diet pills or allergy medicine 

"I see a lot of patients who come to me complaining of chest flutters," says Dr. Palermo. "As a general rule, if you have a chest flutter that lasts a second or two, it's most likely not a serious problem. Usually, they're benign. But it's always important to see a doctor if you have concerns."

When to seek medical help

Not all butterflies in the chest are the same. Some palpitations are caused by medical disorders such as mitral valve prolapse, heart disease, uncontrolled high blood pressure, overactive thyroid, anemia and sleep apnea.

Visit a doctor immediately if your palpitations last for 30 seconds or longer or if you experience the following symptoms:

  • Dizziness
  • Light headedness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Unusual sweating
  • Chest pain 

"While most palpitations are not critical, it is important to find out if there are underlying causes," adds Dr. Palermo. "If there seems to be a serious arrhythmia or irregular heartbeat, then a complete history and cardiovascular examination will be performed."

Following a medical examination, you may be connected to a heart monitor that continuously records your heart's rhythm. The monitor is usually worn for 24 to 48 hours and determines how the heart responds to normal activity.

"Heart palpitations can be a nuisance. Some people can bear them; some cannot," says Dr. Palermo. "If you feel the need to take something to stop these chest flutters, you should see a doctor to find out the cause and how they can be treated appropriately."

State-of-the-art heart treatment

Virtua provides a wide range of heart care including cardiovascular prevention, diagnosis, treatment and rehabilitation. Virtua cardiologists use the latest technology and treatment including:

  • All-digital, wireless cardiac monitoring system that enables physicians to continually monitor the heart, even if they are not in the room. 
  • All-digital cardiac catheterization and echocardiography laboratories. 

Learn more online by visiting Virtua's Cardiovascular Health program.

Or, call 1-888-VIRTUA-3 to make an appointment with a Virtua cardiologist. 

Updated April 10, 2017

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