What’s Happening When Your Heart Beats Too Hard or Too Fast

If there’s a type of heart palpitation that tends to cause more worry than others, it’s when the heart starts beating unusually hard or fast, seemingly without reason.

One minute you’re going about your business, and the next your heart is racing and you can’t control it!

Fortunately, most episodes of racing heartbeat are not dangerous. To accurately assess your risk, it’s important to understand what causes your heart to beat extra hard and fast, and what complicating factors could make it more than just a passing event.

Why Your Heart Might Beat Too Hard or Too Fast

A sudden change in heart rate can occur under virtually any circumstance—whether you’re working outside or sitting at a desk, or laughing or crying—which is one reason an unexpected pounding or racing heart is such an attention-grabber. While the episodes may seem to have nothing in common, it’s been my experience that most can be traced to two causes:

Hidden emotions

Whether we’re consciously aware of it or not, our heart rate reflects our emotions. A heart beating too fast or too hard can be a messenger telling us that we need to acknowledge and own stressful or negative emotions lurking just below the surface.

For example, say you’re out with friends to celebrate a big promotion or retirement. It’s a happy occasion; still, your heart starts racing. Why? Perhaps beneath your excitement, you’re also fearful about what the future holds and how you’ll cope with it. Or maybe you’ve been struggling with one of your children. You brush aside the stress and tell yourself, “It’s their life.” But then out of nowhere, while you’re doing something completely unrelated, your heart starts pounding.

Despite what we tell ourselves about our lives, the heart never lies. Our brains rationalize our guilt, shame, fear, and anger, but the heart always knows our truth—and sometimes it will beat in unusual ways to bring our attention to those issues. So if you’ve been experiencing a racing or pounding heart, first ask yourself if you’re harboring untended emotions. An honest answer to that question often will begin to resolve the heart rate issue.

Environmental hazards, like EMF exposure

When spontaneous surges in the heart rate aren’t related to emotions, I look for environmental causes. Exposure to chemicals, poor air quality, specific foods and food additives, and EMF are all potential culprits.

EMF, especially, is high on my list. Though the studies are still producing mixed results on the degree to which EMF can affect heart rate, specifically, I hear anecdotal evidence in support of the fact that it does, just about everywhere I go. On my last trip to the west coast, I met a young mother who told me that her son frequently suffers from a rapid heartbeat while at school. Since the boy is fine while he’s at home, they think the problem is due to the fact that he’s exposed to wi-fi all day long.

Wi-fi isn’t the only source of trouble, of course. Cell phones and cell phone signaling towers, microwave ovens, baby monitors, and cordless phones all emit radiation that can potentially cause the heart to beat too hard or too fast. In fact, one study found that using a cordless phone caused a disturbance in heart rate variability in 40 percent of study participants, as well as a link between cordless phone use and both elevated heart rate and an increase in the number of irregular heartbeats.

Should You Worry About a Heartbeat That’s Too Hard or Too Fast?

If a pounding or racing heart happens to you repeatedly, by all means see a doctor and get it checked out. Don’t assume that because you’re in good health, nothing is wrong. Recurrent episodes could be the first sign of emerging cardiovascular concerns.

For others, your risk when your heart beats too hard or too fast depends on two things: your heart rate variability (HRV) and the structure and function of your heart.

In people who have good heart rate variability—that is, whose hearts beat with a wide range of speed and intensity—are at far lower risk than people whose HRV is more restricted. When a heart with poor HRV is suddenly pushed to its limit, more serious events can occur.

You also have more risk if your heart is compromised in some way, as a physical abnormality has the potential to disrupt the electrical signals that govern the heartbeat. Heart attack survivors, especially, are at risk because their hearts have areas of scar tissue. Not only must the normal electrical signals travel around these areas, but the scar itself can sometimes be a source of ectopic beats. Sudden increases in heart rate have the ability to scramble the electrical signals and excite the source of ectopic beats, leading to potentially fatal arrhythmia.

Minimize Your Risk From a Racing Heart

For everyone, the best way to minimize risk is to improve your heart rate variability. To start, work on managing your stress, and find ways to bring balance into your life, such as yoga, meditation, or prayer. I also highly recommend grounding, since it helps calm the autonomic nervous system. Finally, stay away from environmental pollutants—and limit time on your cell phone or other wireless device!


© 2016 HeartMD Institute. All rights reserved.

Leave a Reply


  1. Jan hubbs

    on August 26, 2016 at 8:34 pm

    Excellent advice

  2. Tom. House

    on August 28, 2016 at 9:23 pm

    Great information. I learn something every time I read your postings . Tom

  3. Ted Platt

    on September 14, 2016 at 7:24 pm

    Thank you for this information! I have gained a great deal of help from these subjects and reading Dr. Sinatra’ s book!

    Thank You, ted Platt
    Wallingford, CT

  4. HeartMD Editor

    on September 15, 2016 at 9:49 am

    You’re so very welcome!

  5. Nancy Shelly

    on September 22, 2016 at 12:40 pm

    I just recently lost my husband suddenly to an apparent heart attack – he was planning to have his aortic heart valve replaced – one minute he was with me and then he went outside to trim some branches from a neighbor’s hedge and fell over and died. It was such a shock and I am experiencing sudden, pounding of my heart, especially upon waking. I take 2.5/6.25 mg. Ziac and after taking it, I notice some relief. I suppose I should consider this a stress involved heart pounding? I have great faith and pray constantly, but still notice my heart beating when prior to this event, I never was aware of my heart. I guess the grieving process comes in many different ways.

  6. CINDY

    on September 22, 2016 at 1:30 pm

    My mom gets a racing heart periodically. It happens to her while she’s at home for no reason at all. Sometimes it lasts for hours and she doesn’t know how to slow it down. She sits and drinks green hot tea and takes extra coQ10. Sometimes the coq10 helps and sometimes taking a nap helps too. But is there anything else she can do or take? Would d-ribose help?

  7. Nicole Moojen - Huntington Beach, CA

    on September 22, 2016 at 1:50 pm

    This is ALL very TRUE!! I’m a Miracle case to still be alive after falling to “Sudden Death Syndrome in Athletes” 4 years ago. I have a Rare Heart Disease called ARVD that causes me to suffer from Fatal Arrhythmias, Tachycardia more specifically. My heart is ‘electrically’ distraught & gets ‘stuck’ racing at 330+ beats per minute due to the disease’s scar tissue that rapidly forms from any actively induced stress upon the heart. The more physical exertion my heart undergoes, sadly causes this disease to further progress, grow/develop, & worsen faster. It can happen at any time, from literal super minor physical exertion, to being completely relaxed in the middle of sleeping. I’m extremely familiar & aware of ALL of this info in this awesome excerpt. It is SOOO nice to see, hear, & read something of any ‘slight’ acknowledgment of ‘some’ of the external environmental factors & subconscious internal notions that ever so easily affect the health & rhythms of our hearts!! Especially regardless of how physically healthy and/or fit any one person may actually be. It is such an amazing bit of RELIEF to finally see a minor bit of ‘Supporting evidence of the TRUTH’ of these qualities being very REAL, especially to those incredible fighters who struggle to deal these notions & unfortunate heart conditions on a daily basis. No pun intended, but my heart goes out to you all! Keep up the great fight & enjoy EVERY moment to its absolute Fullest! Each new second is truly an awesome Blessing! 🙂 It’s definitely not expected for many people to fully understand the rare complexity of these conditions, but so very MANY honestly discredit, refuse, & disbelieve any of these simple factors to be true, as well as how greatly it CAN & DOES affect some people’s hearts. From such strong repetitiveness, this notion can be quite frustrating – especially when your own caregivers, physicians, & Drs don’t believe these things affect you or sadly even worse, choose not to :/ So THANK YOU SO MUCH DR SINATRA for this INVALUABLE & pleasantly simply stated, significant information!! 🙂 Please continue to share more! This intense rare condition is hard to continually fight to survive through on a day to day basis. But I am ever so Thankful & Grateful to still yet be alive :j God Bless You!

  8. HeartMD Editor

    on September 22, 2016 at 2:14 pm

    Thank you – you’re an inspiration!

  9. Laura J Starr

    on September 22, 2016 at 2:14 pm

    Thank you for this well organized heart health information. I am a holistic health RN & share Dr Sinatra’s site to motivate nurses toward better Integrative self-care.
    We in the Kentuckiana Holistic Health Nurses Association endeavor to promote Integrative Health. Resources like this helps to encourage stress reduction to encourage better work/ life balance.

  10. HeartMD Editor

    on September 22, 2016 at 2:25 pm

    Hi Cindy, Check out https://heartmdinstitute.com/heart-health/types-of-arrhythmias/ – there’s a lot of info there about what to avoid or do (and taking ribose is suggested). Also, does she have cordless phones or wifi at home? We definitely suggest removing them from the home. Your mom should get checked out by a doctor – if she hasn’t already – to make sure she doesn’t have an underlying cardiovascular condition or serious arrhythmia. Best of luck to you both.

  11. HeartMD Editor

    on September 22, 2016 at 2:29 pm

    Our hearts go out to you, Nancy; we hope you find comfort and peace during this devastating time of loss. God bless.

  12. Anne Marie

    on September 26, 2016 at 5:29 pm

    My heart pounds very hard when I’m at home, but I’m okay anywhere else. My lungs and throat are raw also. Could ammonia cause these conditions? My landlord has lots of cats downstairs and he’s not very good at cleaning up after them. Sometimes I can smell them throughout the house, but most of the time the smell is in the front hall and my laundry room.
    Can low Vitamin D cause a pounding heart? I would suspect this, but I’m fine everywhere except at home.
    Thank you for all the information you provide, Dr. Sinatra. I can’t afford a natural doctor, and medical doctors, as you know go only for the symptoms. I have to find the information that will make me well myself. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate you and others like you who educate the poor as well as the rich.

  13. HeartMD Editor

    on September 29, 2016 at 10:12 am

    Hi Anne, Thank you and you’re very welcome! Inhaling ammonia can cause respiratory issues; ammonia is a respiratory irritant. Mold also is known to cause respiratory issues. Is there WiFi and/or a smart meter on the premises? Some people are electro-sensitive and experience heartbeat changes and other symptoms when exposed to strong wireless signals; cordless phones are also known culprits. If the cat situation is bothering you, maybe your pounding heart may reflect frustration & anger about not being able to change it? I hope this helps and that you get relief soon.

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