Heart palpitations—the perception that the heart is skipping beats, making extra beats or beating erratically, has multiple causes.

Low iron levels can be associated with this situation, which ranges from annoying to frightening.

Suddenly feeling your heart doing flip-flops or a perceived “skipping” or “extra” beat can stop a person in their tacks and make them worry they’re about to have a heart attack.

Iron Levels

“Low blood iron levels, in themselves, do not cause palpitations,” says Morton Tavel, MD, Clinical Professor Emeritus of Medicine, Indiana University School of Medicine, and author of “HEALTH TIPS, MYTHS, AND TRICKS: A Physician’s Advice.”

“However, if low iron levels are associated with anemia, as they often are, the resulting fewer red blood cell levels carry less oxygen.

“Therefore, in attempting to sustain adequate oxygenation of all the vital organs, this may result in a rapid heart rate and the sensation of palpitations when one exerts him/herself, even at relatively low levels.”

Definition of Anemia

Anemia is when there are not enough red blood cells in a person’s  circulation to deliver optimal oxygen to the body’s cells.

Common Symptoms of Anemia

Fatigue and weakness are common symptoms. In addition to an irregular heartbeat, other symptoms of anemia include pale skin, a feeling of being lightheaded, dizziness, chest pain, headache and cold hands/feet.

Why do low iron levels result in fewer red blood cells?

The bone marrow needs iron, a naturally occurring metal, to produce hemoglobin.

Hemoglobin carries oxygen and is found in red blood cells. Not enough hemoglobin means symptoms of anemia.

A blood test will determine if you have a low red blood cell count. If so, your doctor will then seek out to find the cause and treatment.

In the meantime, your heart palpitations may also be caused by anxiety or even excessive caffeine intake.

morton tavel, MD

Dr. Tavel’s medical research includes over 125 publications, editorials and book reviews in peer-reviewed national medical journals. He was formerly director of the cardiac rehabilitation program at St. Vincent Hospital in Indiana.