Medical News Today: What causes a bounding pulse?

A bounding pulse is when a person feels their heart beating harder or more vigorously than usual.

People are often worried that a bounding pulse is a sign of a heart problem. However, anxiety or panic attacks cause many cases and will resolve on their own.

People may notice their heartbeat feels stronger in their chest or when they feel for their pulse in the neck or wrist. They might also notice an irregular heartbeat or heart palpitations.

In this article, we look at the causes and symptoms of a bounding pulse. We also discuss ways that people can treat or prevent it from happening.

Causes of a bounding pulse

Bounding pulse
A person experiencing anxiety will often feel their heartbeat increase.

A range of medical conditions can cause a bounding pulse. If the symptoms do not go away on their own, people should see a doctor to find out what is causing the symptoms.

Some of the most common conditions linked to pulse rate changes include the following:

Anxiety or panic attacks

Anxiety can cause the heart to beat more strongly and more rapidly. Anxiety is a temporary state, and a person’s heartbeat will return to normal when their fear or worry go away.

In cases of extreme anxiety, people might experience a panic attack. Panic attacks usually come on quickly and reach their peak within minutes. In some cases, they can feel like a heart attack, which can add more anxiety.

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), the symptoms of a panic attack include:

  • heart palpitations, or an irregular heartbeat
  • a pounding heart
  • a rapid heartbeat
  • chest pain or discomfort
  • shortness of breath
  • fear of losing control or dying

Panic attacks are not a sign of any underlying medical condition. Nevertheless, if a person experiences severe anxiety or panic attacks, they should speak to their doctor.

Dehydration

Dehydration can disrupt the balance of electrolytes in the body. A person’s heart may beat more rapidly to try and correct these imbalances.

A bounding pulse linked to dehydration is more common in people doing intense exercise, experiencing heat-related exhaustion, and those with metabolic disorders that affect their ability to absorb electrolytes.

Fever

People may feel their heart beating more quickly or vigorously when they have a fever.

A person’s body heats up when it is trying to fight off an infection, which means the heart has to work harder. This also occurs when people exercise or spend too much time in hot climates.

Some people also become more sensitive to changes in their heart rate when they are sick or have a fever, so they are more likely to notice changes in their heartbeats.

Drugs

Some drugs and medications can cause the heart to beat faster. Some that may cause this effect include:

  • caffeine and nicotine
  • prescription medications, including Ritalin and other ADHD treatments
  • illicit substances, including cocaine

Hormonal imbalance

Hormones are the body’s chemical messengers. Changes in hormone levels can change the heart rate.

Thyroid diseases, such as hyperthyroidism, which causes the body to produce too much thyroid hormone, are a common cause of hormone imbalances.

People who experience a pounding heart and other symptoms, such as exhaustion or unexplained weight gain or loss, may have a thyroid condition.

Allergic reactions

Mild allergic reactions should not cause changes in people’s heartbeats. However, a severe allergic reaction, such as anaphylactic shock, can produce a rapid, bounding pulse.

Anaphylaxis usually happens within a few minutes of exposure to an allergen.

People experiencing anaphylaxis may have:

  • rapid, pounding heartbeat
  • trouble breathing
  • swollen throat or tongue

Electrical faults in the heart

The heart uses electrical signals to know when to pump and when to relax.

A problem with the heart’s electrical system can cause any of the organ’s four chambers to beat at an irregular rate, or to pump too fast and too hard. This can create the sensation of a bounding pulse.

One of the most common symptoms of an electrical problem is called paroxysmal supraventricular tachycardia (SVT). It often happens during exercise or stress and does not usually mean a person has a serious health problem.

Heart disease

A racing, bounding heart rate may be a sign of heart disease.

Heart disease is more likely in people with cardiovascular risk factors, such as:

  • smoking cigarettes
  • a family history of heart disease
  • being overweight

When the arteries are clogged, the heart has to beat harder to pump blood through the body. This damages the heart and may cause chest pain. It can also cause some people to experience a faster heart rate.

Problems with the heart valves

Aortic insufficiency, sometimes called aortic regurgitation, is where the heart valves do not close properly. This means that the heart cannot pump the blood as well as it should.

Heart disease and some other health problems, such as a bacterial infection, can weaken the heart and cause problems with the heart valves.

Aortic insufficiency can cause:

  • a bounding pulse
  • chest pain
  • weakness
  • swelling
  • fatigue

Shock

Shock is a medical condition where the heart does not pump enough oxygen-rich blood around the body. This can happen when a person has one of the following:

  • too little blood in their body
  • a problem with their heart’s pumping mechanism
  • widened blood vessels

Shock can cause the heart to beat faster to compensate. People may go into shock following a severe injury, especially one that causes organ damage or heavy bleeding. A racing heart following an injury is always a medical emergency.


Symptoms

During an episode of bounding pulse, a person may experience the following:

  • sudden increase in pulse rate, such that the heart feels as if it is beating very fast
  • feeling like the heart is beating very hard
  • anxiety about the heart
  • heart palpitations or an irregular heart rate

Some people also experience dizziness or light-headedness. These signs are often due to anxiety.

Anxiety can increase a person’s pulse and make the bounding feeling more intense. This change in pulse can make people feel even more anxious. Finding ways to manage anxiety, such as deep breathing or meditation, may help to break this cycle.


When to see a doctor

Bounding pulse can be cause for medical treatment
Seek medical help if chest pain is not linked to exercise and does not reduce with rest.

A bounding pulse does not necessarily mean a person has a medical condition, and it usually goes away on its own.

People who frequently experience a bounding pulse should consult a doctor, especially if the symptom is not due to anxiety.

If a person has other symptoms, it is vital to see a doctor quickly, as a bounding pulse associated with other signs may point to a further medical issue.

People should seek emergency medical help if a bounding pulse happens along with:

  • chest pain or pressure not associated with exercise and not improving after rest
  • intense jaw or shoulder pain, especially along with chest pain
  • confusion or changes in consciousness
  • a history of heart disease, stroke, or heart attack
  • starting new medication
  • exposure to a recent allergen, such as a bee sting
  • sweating profusely
  • heavy bleeding or a recent injury
  • spotting during pregnancy
  • a head injury


Diagnosis

To find out the cause of a bounding pulse, a doctor will ask about a person’s symptoms and medical history.

The doctor may seek the following information:

  • when the changes in pulse rate began
  • whether a bounding pulse has happened before
  • what triggers the bounding pulse
  • other symptoms, such as an irregular heartbeat or ectopic beats
  • risk factors for heart issues, including family history of heart problems

A doctor may then order tests to measure the speed and regularity of a person’s heartbeat. An electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG) is one of the most common heart tests. It measures heart rhythms over time. Blood testing may also help rule out some causes, such as thyroid disease.

Treatment

A person with a bounding pulse does not usually require treatment. However, people may need treatment for an underlying medical condition if that is causing their symptoms.

Treatment varies depending on the medical condition involved, but it may include medication, lifestyle changes, and ongoing medical monitoring.

A doctor may recommend regular stress tests to test how the heart responds to physical stress.

When anxiety causes changes in the pulse, people can try various ways to reduce their stress levels. These may include:

  • using deep breathing exercises when anxiety arises
  • learning ways to manage a panic attack
  • practicing meditation or mindfulness

Some people may also benefit from anti-anxiety medication and should speak to a doctor about the best options.


Prevention

Regular exercise can reduce risk of bounding pulse
Regular exercise will help to keep the heart healthy.

The best ways to prevent a bounding pulse depend on the cause.

When anxiety causes these symptoms, people can prevent pulse changes by avoiding triggers or developing stress-management techniques.

When chronic health conditions cause a bounding pulse, people should speak to their doctor about the best ways to control their symptoms.

A number of strategies can prevent heart health issues if people are concerned about these or they have a risk of cardiovascular disease.

According to the American Heart Association, people can keep their heart healthy by using the following tips:

  • maintaining a healthy body weight
  • eating a balanced, nutrient-rich diet
  • exercising regularly
  • managing chronic health conditions
  • keeping anxiety and stress under control
  • limiting foods linked to heart health issues, including sodium and red meat
  • eating heart-friendly foods, such as non-fried fish, whole grains, and fruits and vegetables

Outlook

For most people, a bounding pulse is temporary and will resolve on its own. Anxiety is often the cause.

If a person frequently experiences a pounding heartbeat, they should speak with their doctor to find the causes and triggers.

Heart health issues are usually treatable, and treatment can be more effective when people catch the problems early. People should speak to a doctor about any heart rate changes that persist or cause worry.

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