Heart palpitations represent a subjective feeling of an irregular heartbeat. This is a very common complaint which can be caused by many benign as well as severe conditions. Anxiety, stress, and heart-related problems are the most common causes of palpitations, but in some cases patients claim that their palpitations are related to eating and bowel movements. Here we explain the reason for this phenomenon.
First of all, no matter how it manifests and regardless of associated symptoms, all patients experiencing palpitations should undergo a detailed investigation in order to exclude serious arrhythmia. This can be done by ECG recording or 24-hour holter.
The Vagus Nerve
If you notice heart palpitations related to food intake and indigestion, this probably has to do with Vagus nerve irritation. The Vagus is a so-called "wandering nerve", the longest cranial nerve in the body. It is a mixed nerve (contains sensitive, motor, and parasympathetic nerve fibers) with many functions. Sensitive fibers receive information from inner organs and transfer them to the corresponding brain centers. Motor fibers innervate palate, tongue, and larynx, while parasympathetic fibers innervate heart muscle, bowels, and some exocrine glands.
These parasympathetic fibers are crucial for bowel movements, but also for modifying the heart rhythm. They increase the motility of bowels and decrease the heart rate. Therefore, in some cases, heart muscle contractions can be affected by bowel disturbances, as they are innervated by the same nerve. Irritation of the Vagus nerve occurs because of the pressure to its fibers caused by gas (bloating), irritable bowel syndrome, constipation, or other causes. Stress can cause excessive air swallowing which then causes bloating and consequent palpitations.
As said earlier, you need to eliminate serious causes of heart palpitations first. Talk about that with your doctor. If you recently developed gastrointestinal symptoms such as bloating, indigestion, or diarrhea, your doctor may recommend a detailed examination of your gastrointestinal tract to check for any pathological changes.
Fast food, improper hydration, and lack of dietary fibers may lead to bloating and other gastrointestinal symptoms. Try to eat food rich in fibers, such as whole grains and vegetables. Avoid carbonated drinks, sweets, and processed food, especially processed meat.
Exercise regularly to boost your digestion, but always wait at least two hours after the meal before physical activity. Make an effort to lose excess weight, and keep your body in a good shape. If you are under stress, use some of the many stress release techniques such as meditation, or ask for professional help.
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