Have you been feeling “heart palpitations” in your neck?

Wondering if a fluttering feeling in your neck might mean that something’s wrong with your carotid artery, such as a blockage from carotid artery disease?

Or maybe you fear that feeling thumping or “palpitations” in your neck suggests that something is wrong with your heart?

There is no need to panic. Keep reading…

“The term ‘palpitation’ refers to a sense of a rapid or irregular pulse,” says Roger Mills, MD, cardiologist and former professor of medicine, University of Florida, and author of 240 Beats per Minute. Life with an Unruly Heart.”

“People may sense irregularities in the pulse in the neck or in the pulse at the wrist; the anatomic site really does not matter,” continues Dr. Mills.

You might even feel your pulse in your upper arm as a blood pressure cuff tightens, and it’s just by chance that a benign irregularity occurs right at that moment (the cuff doesn’t cause this).

“As with many other things in life, what does matter is the details,” says Dr. Mills.

“Healthy younger people often sense a ‘skipped beat’ without any other symptoms interrupting an otherwise normal, regular heartbeat.

“This usually happens when they are sitting quietly or resting in bed. It’s not a cause for alarm, particularly if it goes away with getting up and moving around.”

It may also happen if you start worrying about it; anxiety is a common cause.

Feeling the skipped beat or flutter in your neck simply reflects the fact that you have a major artery (one on each side) in that area.

“On the other hand, frequent ‘skipped beats’ brought on by exertion, sudden episodes of rapid heartbeat with a rate over 140 per minute, or prolonged episodes of rapid and irregular heartbeat should be reported and evaluated,” says Dr. Mills.

“And episodes of rapid heartbeat that are associated with lightheadedness, chest discomfort or shortness of breath warrant a trip to the emergency room.”

  • These don’t necessarily mean a heart attack.
  • An arrhythmia can cause these symptoms when the electrical disturbance results in reduced blood pressure and blood flow to the body.
  • Blood carries oxygen.
  • So reduced BP and blood flow mean less oxygen uptake by working cells.

“An electrocardiogram recorded while the symptoms are present is absolutely the best way to make a diagnosis,” says Dr. Mills.

If the EKG fails to detect the disturbance, the patient can wear a Holter monitor for 24 to 72 hours at home.

If palpitations (whether felt in the chest, neck or elsewhere) occur even less frequently, safe and effective longer-term event monitoring is now possible.

Dr. Mills is the former medical director of the heart failure and heart transplant service at the University of Florida, was a staff cardiologist at The Cleveland Clinic and has authored over 100 peer-reviewed publications. “240 Beats a Minute” is available on Amazon.
Lorra Garrick has been covering medical, fitness and cybersecurity topics for many years, having written thousands of articles for print magazines and websites, including as a ghostwriter. She’s also a former ACE-certified personal trainer.  


Top image: Shutterstock/Adam Gregor