Heart Palpitations Causes and Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome

By: Michael Lam, MD, MPH; Justin Lam, ABAAHP, FMNM

Palpitations causes some discomfortWhen the heart is beating normally, you don’t usually feel it. It is an automatic event. So when you get palpitations, it can be quite distressing, especially if you don’t know what the cause might be. The sensation of pounding, irregular heartbeats, increased heart rate and a sensation that the heart is fluttering are all different types of palpitations. Learning palpitations causes can help.

Although palpitations more commonly occur during exercise, they can also happen at rest. In this article we will explain heart palpitations causes, especially pertaining to Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome (AFS) and the NeuroEndoMetabolic (NEM) stress response.

Heart Palpitations Causes and the NEM Stress Response

Stress – physical, mental and emotional – is common and the human body is equipped to handle it. The main system involved in handling stress in the body is the neuroendocrine system, specifically the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) hormonal axis.

The adrenal glands secrete the most important anti-stress hormone: cortisol. Cortisol helps regulate blood sugar levels, blood pressure and metabolism, and helps reduce inflammation.

But with chronic stress, the adrenal glands become dysregulated and their output of cortisol is compromised. In the first stages of AFS, cortisol output is increased, and then in later stages, it is not sufficient. The body is then unable to handle stress.

When stress is severe or prolonged enough it will affect systems that are part of the overall NEM stress response. This the body’s global reaction to stress, so to speak. These systems are: the hormonal, metabolic, neuro-affective, cardionomic, inflammatory and detoxification responses.

The cardionomic response gets the heart ready and gets more blood flowing to the lungs and blood vessels. Disruptions in the cardionomic stress response brings on imbalances in blood pressure, heart palpitations, cardiac arrhythmia, dizziness and shortness of breath.

Common Reasons for Heart Palpitations – Causes


One of the most common heart palpitations causes is exercise. In fact, increased heart rate is a desired outcome of fitness routines as it helps keep the heart fit, helps burn calories, improves stamina and recovery times, lowers cholesterol and strengthens the immune system.

However, excessively vigorous exercise can also adversely affect health. With a balanced approach to exercise, the resting heart rate stays low. With excessive exercise, the resting heart rate becomes high. Cortisol levels also increase to deal with the stress being put on the body and mind.

30 minutes a day of moderate intensity is enough for most people to stay healthy and fit. It is important to make sure your exercise routine is also suitable for your current health condition. For example, if you suffer from AFS, it is advisable to follow a specific type of exercise recommended by your doctor and not self navigate as inappropriate exercise is a common cause of recovery failure and relapses.

Stress and Anxiety

Sudden and strong emotions can elicit a “fight or flight” reaction in the body with a flooding of adrenaline and norepinephrine that raises heart rate and causes palpitations. Strong fear and panic attacks are known to make the heart pound.

Chronic mental-emotional stress and anxiety can be the root causes of adrenal fatigue. It is therefore important to reduce stress for AFS recovery, reduction of palpitations and overall health.

Heart palpitations causes stressRemove the cause of stress in your life if possible, and learn to manage stress when faced with situations that are unavoidable. Breathing exercises, meditation, yoga and therapy are just a few ways that can help you deal with the stress in your life.


Although there are conflicting studies, caffeine is generally thought to be a common cause of heart palpitations. For those sensitive to caffeine, even one cup of coffee can trigger heart palpitations. For those who are not so sensitive, the cause could be excessive use.

Caffeine stimulates the central nervous system. Nerve impulses can then cause the heart to beat faster or harder.

When you’re tired, caffeine can help prop you up. However, it can also be the cause of the fatigue you are experiencing, or it can just make it worse. Overuse of caffeine can push the body into adrenal fatigue in fact. In later stages of adrenal fatigue, caffeine can cause crashes.

It is therefore advised that you not depend on caffeine for your energy. If you are tired, it is best to rest, eat well and exercise moderately. That way your energy levels come from a place of health.

If you are already dependent on caffeine – while also suffering from adrenal fatigue – don’t stop caffeine abruptly. Begin to heal the adrenals first, and then slowly reduce caffeine intake.

Palpitations that come from caffeine will naturally subside with lower consumption.

Other Stimulants and Substances

Alcohol, nicotine and drugs such as cocaine and amphetamines can also cause heart palpitations. A study by the American College of Cardiology Foundation shows a link between even moderate alcohol consumption and atrial fibrillation.

Some types of medications also can cause heart palpitations. These include cold and cough medicine containing stimulants, as well as medications for asthma, heart disease, hypertension and thyroid conditions. Diet pills and some types of antibiotics can also be at the root of heart palpitations causes.

With AFS, most stimulants can aggravate symptoms and delay recovery. It is therefore suggested that you consult a medical professional trained in AFS to help you reduce the use of stimulants of all kinds. This should be approached in a way that does not cause sudden crashes or aggravations with which your body is already struggling.

Certain Diets, Herbs and Supplements

Sometimes, eating high-carb, high-sugar, or high-fat meals can bring on heart palpitations as a secondary reaction to the heartburn they may cause. Also, eating foods that you are allergic or sensitive to can do the same.

Many people with AFS will also have food sensitivities and allergies, so it is advised to get nutritional coaching to eliminate these stressors without compromising energy and health. A food diary might be useful to pinpoint which foods are causing such reactions.

Certain foods rich in the following ingredients can also cause palpitations:

  • Sodium – as with many canned and processed foods
  • Tyramine – an amino-acid found in aged cheese, dried fruits and cured meats
  • Theobromine – a methylxanthine related to caffeine and found in high levels in cocoa (and chocolate) increases heart rate with higher doses
  • Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) – a flavor enhancer that is commonly added to processed and canned foods

Palpitations causes a deficiency in potassiumDeficiency in potassium is another culprit, especially if you are also dehydrated. But be careful with potassium intake if you have AFS as it can bring an imbalance of the sodium-potassium levels, aggravating your condition further.

Palpitations and Causes – Health and Medical Conditions

Sympathetic Overtone and Metabolic Overdrive

The peripheral nervous system is divided into two parts: the somatic nervous system and the autonomic nervous system (ANS). The ANS is divided into five subsystems, among which are the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS), the sympathetic nervous system (SNS), and the adrenomedullary hormonal system (AHS).

The SNS is the system that regulates blood pressure, force of the heartbeat and the heart rate and the AHS is what is responsible for the “fight or flight” response. The combination of the SNS and the AHS make up the sympathoadrenal system (SAS).

With advancing adrenal fatigue, cortisol output is reduced and the body’s ability to handle stress is weakened. Over time, the body interprets this as a survival threat, which in turn consistently overworks the SAS.

Overstimulation of the SAS creates symptoms known as the reactive sympathoadrenal response (RSR) – releasing excessive adrenaline and norepinephrine throughout the body causing fast resting heart rate, heart palpitations, strong heart beat, anxiety and panic attacks, irritable bowel issues, feeling “wired and tired”, postural tachycardia syndrome (POTS), hypoglycemia, temperature intolerance and other symptoms.

These reactions do not give the body a chance for rest and repair, which are essential for AFS recovery. The constant “on” of the metabolic and hormonal functions give rise to frequent adrenaline rushes throughout the day which produces palpitations, causes heart pounding even at rest, and extreme discomfort leading to symptoms being misread by well-meaning individuals.

This situation can become so dire that patients pay frequent visits to the emergency room, that without any evidence (despite the severe palpitations) causes them only to be sent home. Tests come back normal for cardiac function and they are still left without any real answers.

Unfortunately, this does eventually result, if not properly addressed, in damage to the heart.

It is important to note that a structural problem in the heart can cause POTS that is unrelated to AFS. This is called primary POTS. Symptoms caused by advanced adrenal fatigue that are POTS-like are usually subclinical and are called secondary POTS. Differentiating between the two is the first step in coming up with the correct recover approach.

Cardiovascular Conditions

Certain types of heart conditions lead to heart palpitations, causes such as:

  • Arrhythmia – abnormal heart rate
  • Tachycardia – rapid heart rate
  • Bradycardia – slow heart rate
  • Atrial flutter – abnormal heart rhythm
  • Atrial fibrillation – irregular heart beats (similar to atrial flutter)
  • Ischemic heart disease – a hardening of the arteries

If you have not been previously diagnosed with these conditions, yet have heart palpitations causes are accompanied by dizziness, chest pain or fainting, it is imperative to be examined by your doctor as soon as possible. Certain heart conditions that are associated with palpitations include heart attack, congestive heart failure and coronary heart disease as well as issues with heart muscles or heart valves.

Hormonal Changes in Women

During pregnancy, palpitations causes anemiaMenstruation, pregnancy and menopause can cause heart palpitations. The changes in hormone levels during such times affect heart rate. Hot flashes also cause palpitations that go away once the hot flash is over. Heart palpitations during pregnancy can also be indicative of anemia.

Other Conditions

Heart palpitations causes can be a symptom of other health conditions, such as:

  • Hypoglycemia
  • Low blood pressure
  • Anemia
  • Hyperthyroidism
  • Fever
  • Dehydration

Addressing these issues will reduce or get rid of the palpitations causes.

How to Deal with Heart Palpitations Causes

The most obvious path is to first determine what the root cause of the palpitations is. This can be done through a process of elimination – getting checked for heart problems and other health conditions.

If everything is clear, then pay attention to whether you get heart palpitations after a stressful situation. This could be a sign of adrenal fatigue. If you do have AFS, get the right kind of medical supervision to bring your adrenals back to a healthy, strong state. Self navigation is not recommended.

© Copyright 2017 Michael Lam, M.D. All Rights Reserved.

Palpitations causes