A person with heart palpitations may feel like their heart is racing, fluttering, or skipping a beat. Some dietary elements can increase the risk of palpitations, which may result in a person experiencing them after a meal.

Consumption of alcohol, caffeine, and salty food can increase the risk of palpitations.

Additionally, certain characteristics of a typical diet may also play a role. These include:

  • high saturated fat
  • low carbohydrates
  • alcohol
  • caffeine
  • low potassium

Palpitations are common and usually do not indicate a heart condition. However, they can also be a symptom of an irregular heartbeat, or arrhythmia.

If a person has recurring palpitations, they should visit a doctor. They should go to an emergency room if they have other serious symptoms, such as:

  • chest pain
  • dizziness
  • difficulty breathing

Keep reading to learn more about the causes of heart palpitations after a meal, as well as treatment and when to see a doctor.

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Alcohol consumption is a common trigger for heart palpitations.

A 2016 review of research indicates that excessive alcohol consumption or habitual drinking at moderate levels is a risk factor for atrial fibrillation, a serious arrhythmia. This condition can result in heart palpitations.

While some research suggests that light alcohol consumption may reduce the likelihood of heart disease, the benefit does not apply to an arrhythmia. More research is necessary to determine if a person with this condition should completely avoid alcohol consumption.

Caffeine consumption is another common trigger for heart palpitations.

Caffeine is present in:

  • coffee
  • espresso-based drinks
  • sodas
  • teas
  • some energy drinks

A 2018 review examines research related to the effects of caffeinated beverages on the risk of heart arrhythmias.

The review finds that regular consumption of up to 300 milligrams (mg) of caffeine per day is safe, but some experts think it should be under 200 mg. Since an average cup of coffee contains 95 mg, 2 cups per day would not pose a problem for most people.

In contrast, energy drinks may contain much higher amounts of caffeine than coffee. The authors of the review note there are increasing reports linking energy drinks with arrhythmias.

People have different sensitivity levels to caffeine and break it down at different rates, so the limit of 300 mg per day may not apply to everyone.

High sodium foods contain large amounts of salt. A 2018 review finds that adding salty foods to the diet appears to be harmful for people with heart rhythm conditions.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the below foods are particularly high in salt:

  • savory snacks, such as chips, pretzels, and crackers
  • canned soups
  • pizza
  • cheese
  • cold cuts
  • breads

While certain dietary elements, such as alcohol and caffeine, can increase the risk of heart palpitations, a person’s overall diet can also raise the likelihood.

Consuming rich and spicy foods can trigger heart palpitations in some cases.

A diet high in saturated fat may cause an arrhythmia. Also, a diet low in carbohydrates could increase the risk of the condition as well.

Additionally, a diet low in potassium could cause the condition, but eating more fresh fruits and vegetables can correct the issue, notes an older 2008 article.

Even drinking too little water could adversely affect the functioning of the heart and blood vessels.

Finally, a case report from 2020 describes how a person experienced palpitations connected to the act of swallowing. These palpitations were worse after eating spicy food. It is worth noting that this is not a common occurrence, however.

Research from 2020 reports that many widely used medications may cause or worsen an array of arrhythmias. Paradoxically, these can include drugs that treat arrhythmias, such as amiodarone (Pacerone).

Others include but are not limited to:

Some herbal dietary supplements can have adverse effects on the heart and blood vessels, according to an older 2010 review. The effects can stem from the herb itself, a contaminant, or a herb-drug interaction.

Some of the most common supplements that can negatively affect the heart and blood vessels include:

  • green tea
  • maté
  • aconite root
  • aloe vera
  • hawthorn
  • senna

An older 2012 review looks at research on the connection between smoking and the risk of arrhythmias. It states that the link likely stems from a combination of several factors, including nicotine and other elements of tobacco, such as carbon monoxide.

Smoking is the single most modifiable risk factor for disease affecting the heart arteries, note the authors.

Arrhythmias are a common occurrence during pregnancy, according to the British Cardiovascular Society. This is due to the rising levels of pregnancy hormones and the higher metabolic demands stemming from the fetus and placenta.

A 2018 review adds that arrhythmias during pregnancy are harmless. However, early evaluation of the arrhythmias is important in order for doctors to identify the best route of treatment if needed.

Palpitations can be harmless and resolve without treatment, notes the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI). To prevent them, a doctor may advise trying to avoid factors that trigger them, such as:

However, heart palpitations should be assessed by a medical professional to ensure they are harmless and not concerning.

Since medications and supplements can cause the condition, a person should let their doctor know about any over-the-counter drugs and herbs they take. If someone suspects a prescription medication is causing palpitations, they should discuss it with their doctor as well.

Medical treatments

If treatment is necessary, medications and other interventions depend on the underlying cause.

Doctors may prescribe beta-blockers or calcium channel blockers for some individuals. An example of a beta-blocker is metoprolol, and an example of a calcium channel blocker is verapamil (Verelan).

Another treatment involves catheter ablation, a procedure that makes small scars in the heart to prevent movement of abnormal electrical signals.

Learn about palpitations and home remedies here.

When people have palpitations, they may feel as though their heart is doing one or more of the following:

  • fluttering
  • skipping a beat
  • beating fast

If palpitations rarely occur, a person may not need a medical exam, but if they happen more frequently or worsen, they should talk with a doctor, advises the NHLBI. The medical appointment may involve:

  • a physical examination and history
  • an EKG, a test that measures electrical activity in the heart
  • the use of a Holter monitor, a device that records EKG continuously for a certain length of time

Additionally, a doctor may order the following blood tests:

  • complete blood count to check for an infection or anemia
  • thyroid function test to check for low thyroid hormone
  • electrolytes and other kidney function tests to check for electrolyte imbalances and decreased kidney function

Serious symptoms that indicate a heart condition require immediate medical attention. The NHLBI recommends going to an emergency room if the following symptoms occur:

  • pain or tightness in the chest
  • difficulty breathing
  • dizziness
  • confusion
  • feeling faint

If a person experiences heart palpitations after eating, it could stem from dietary elements and characteristics that can increase the risk. These can include drinking too many caffeinated beverages or not eating enough fruits and vegetables.

Some medications and nutritional supplements may also cause the condition, so a person should inform their doctor about everything they take.

If someone has recurring palpitations without any accompanying symptoms, they should make an appointment with their doctor.

In contrast, if they have serious symptoms with their palpitations, such as trouble breathing, chest pain, dizziness, or feeling faint, they could have an underlying life threatening arrhythmia. They should go to an emergency room or call 911.