Life Free of Anxiety

Heart Palpitations: When to Worry and When to Relax

September 12, 2023 Erica & Dr. Charles Barr of CHAANGE Season 1 Episode 6
Life Free of Anxiety
Heart Palpitations: When to Worry and When to Relax
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Show Notes: The Life Free of Anxiety Podcast

Hosted by Dr. Charles Barr and Erica

Episode: The Heart of the Matter: Understanding Heart Palpitations and Anxiety

In today's episode, Dr. Charles Barr and Erica delve deep into the phenomenon of heart palpitations, one of the most unsettling and common symptoms experienced by anxiety sufferers. Both share personal anecdotes and insights that shed light on this perplexing physical reaction.

Topics Covered:

  1. What are Heart Palpitations? - A first-hand experience of what it feels like when the heart takes on a rhythm of its own.
  2. Decoding the Causes - From relaxation, supplements, to hormonal shifts, the myriad factors that might trigger heart palpitations.
  3. Understanding the First Fear vs. Second Fear - The innate reactions we can't control versus the reactions we absolutely can.
  4. Heart Attack or Anxiety? - Navigating the murky waters of understanding whether your palpitations are a sign of something more serious.
  5. Relaxation as a Cure - The power of relaxation exercises in reducing the incidence of heart palpitations.
  6. The Role of Supplements and Diet - Erica's experience with throat coat tea and other surprises that might be lurking in your pantry.

Erica, a former anxiety sufferer, shares her journey and the life-changing role of the CHAANGE Anxiety Treatment Program, emphasizing that there's hope for everyone struggling with anxiety. Tune in and find comfort in shared experiences and expert advice.

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Erica:

Heart palpitations. Yeah, usually scary, but usually not dangerous. Dr. BARR. And I break that down for you in today's episode, let's go. welcome to the life free of anxiety podcast, where each week we'll bring you another discussion to help you on your way to overcoming your fears. I'm Erica and together with dr. Charles Barr, a licensed clinical psychologist, specializing in anxiety. We'll be your guides on this journey to find a list of helpful free resources we offer head to live free of anxiety.com. Because you are not broken, you are not alone. And you are on your way to living a life free of anxiety. Welcome back to the life free of anxiety podcast. I'd love having guests on this show, but I love having you dr. Bar on just as much, if not more. And he is back today to discuss heart palpitations from his clinical psychologist, psychology, psych psychological. Um, what I'm trying to say is he's a clinical psychologist and he's going to be talking about. About heart palpitations with me, um, because I had a heart palpitation this past week and it was kind of scary. So we're going to talk about what does it mean when you have M and, um, what are the things that it kind of leads you to believe sometimes? And what are the dangers? How do you know if it is dangerous? So. Lots of good stuff ahead, including the change program is coming back next week. So if you have wanted to do the change program with us the 16 week anxiety treatment program, that really helped dr. BARR and I recover from anxiety, you can join us very, very soon. We're going to be making it available again. So stay tuned for more information on that. Be sure to check on change.com. That's changed with two A's. If you want some more information on the program itself. Don't forget, you can also find there a free copy of free from fears, which is the anxiety book that breaks down the change program. So if you want to know if the change program is right for you, a great way to do that is to get the free book free from fears. And that is a real foundation of the change program. So you can find all of that information on the program and information on the book at change with two way stuff. Okay. Let's get to today's episode.

Dr. Charles Barr:

heart palpitations and we're not talking about falling in love either. Um,

Erica:

I thought we were, I think I was the wrong

Dr. Charles Barr:

surprise.

Erica:

up in front of me. It's not Valentine's day. That might be a good topic someday though, following the brain chemistry, falling in love. There's some interesting stuff on that topic, but that's not what

Dr. Charles Barr:

Well, there, there would be, but we couldn't do that in a short period of time.

Erica:

not today. Anyway,

Dr. Charles Barr:

Um, but actually, uh, lots and lots of people have heart palpitations and lots of our anxiety. People have heart palpitations. So you may be one of those people that experiences, heart palpitations, uh, Erica, have you ever had heart palpitations?

Erica:

well, not until this week, which is weird. Um, I,

Dr. Charles Barr:

had them this

Erica:

I did. And

Dr. Charles Barr:

I'm so

Erica:

I know it was actually scary. I've always said, like, I think when you're an anxious person, when, you know, I was stuck in my anxiety, my thing was like, why do I have depersonalization? Which is that unreal feeling, right. That unreality feeling I would get that. And I would just focus on that. And then people would say, you know, I have heart palpitations or whatever, and I'd always be like, that's whatever. I don't understand that. So I block it out. Like, I'm the one who really suffers. Right. But then I had heart palpitations this week. And it was pretty scary. Um, I wasn't, I was having a conversation with Kyle and all of a sudden my heart was just beating so fast that I thought something must be wrong. I totally see why people end up in the emergency room now. Um, but it turned out, I went to the room and I was like, what it's going on? Um, and I just, just did a relaxation exercise and then I was like, okay, but this wasn't anxiety. This was something else. And so I started reading about why you can have them. And I was reassured to read that, you know, it's pretty, they're not really generally yeah, dangerous. So I was like, okay, that's good. Cause I don't even really know much about this. And then I found that herbal supplements can do it. And I had had an herbal tea that morning was black licorice, which can do it.

Dr. Charles Barr:

Oh, okay.

Erica:

seemed to be what set off. The heart palpitations, which, um, did go away after I just relaxed a little bit and sat there, but it was scary. It was, it was a loud heart, you know, I was like, what's, what's wrong. What's what's my body trying to warn me about, that's what it felt like. So I have a whole new respect from people who have this cause, and that's why I wanted to talk about it. Cause I've never, I mean, if it gave me anxiety to have them that's for sure. I was like, Whoa, what's happening.

Dr. Charles Barr:

Well, it certainly can. Well, now there, there's a lot of interesting things about heart palpitations. So, so let's talk about some of those, um, by the way, I've had heart palpitations for years. Um, remember I've been doing relaxation since what,

Erica:

Wow. Wow. You're one of the first changers then

Dr. Charles Barr:

I was pretty close. I think they'd been going about 10 years when I got in, but, um, so I've been doing relaxation a long time and when I would get really relaxed, I would get this really, uh, different sensation in my chest and just at the bottom of my breastbone. And I actually trained myself, to think that that is. When I really got relaxed. And in fact it was when I would get really relaxed, I would get a heart palpitation and that unfortunately is not unusual

Erica:

I did

Dr. Charles Barr:

so that when you actually relax your body and you let go of all the tension, sometimes you get heart palpitations. Well, I actually

Erica:

sorry, I just want to ask is this, this is like nervous system release then like if you start burping after relaxing or yawning, is that the same kind of

Dr. Charles Barr:

Very similar.

Erica:

Okay. Got it. I

Dr. Charles Barr:

Very similar. Um, so I didn't know that that's what that feeling was. Uh, but then I, I started having more and more trouble with the heart palpitations and they really started bothering me. Of course, I had been checked out by the doctor. I went to the doctor and I got the EKG and I did all that workup. And uh, he said, well, yeah, you haven't, you're throwing some PVCs. And, uh, you know, you're. It's, it's not dangerous. Um, lots of people have them and live with them forever and it's not dangerous. But at one point I got to the place where I was getting what they call quadrat Gemini. And it was like, my heart was skipping beat every fourth beat. So that's where the quad comes in. Uh, so it was thump, thump, thump. No. I seen some, some thump, nothing, and that just became so irritating that I, I went to the doctor and I said, look, this is just irritating to me. And I, I can't ignore it and it's bothering me. So how about some medication to help control the heartbeat? And so at that point, I went on some beta blockers for, to try to help regulate that.

Erica:

Oh, wow.

Dr. Charles Barr:

So one of the interesting things is that we can ignore a lot of symptoms that we have in our body and sometimes our body doesn't signal as well. That something's going on, what we seem not to be able to ignore. It almost seems like we're hardwired to pay attention to things that happen in our chest area. So what is a heart palpitation? Um,

Erica:

I can tell you pretty vividly

Dr. Charles Barr:

Okay.

Erica:

my heart was the most, the strongest thing I felt was that it was just beating irregular and that it was hard. It was going to the point where it felt like it was coming out, sort of like it was going so fast that it was not coming out. That sounds really

Dr. Charles Barr:

okay. So, so it

Erica:

it was so strong

Dr. Charles Barr:

so it was rapid.

Erica:

Yeah. It felt like it was just so such a strong story sensation of the heartbeat going in my chest. Yeah, it was. And it wasn't like an out of breath type. It was like, you could, you're just still as can be. And then your heart is just like doing like running, like it's running on its own, you know, like just like sprinting I should say. And, um, yeah, too quickly thumping the chest heartbeat that can feel irregular. I definitely felt that irregular furnace too. Yeah.

Dr. Charles Barr:

okay. Um, so sometimes people get that, that pounding. It's like, there's something in there rocking my chest, you know, it's, it's almost like you feel like your whole body is moving every time your heartbeats, uh, that irregularity is there. Um, sometimes, um, I felt, I feel it sometimes up in my throat. I don't feel it in my chest, but I feel it in my throat, sometimes people will feel it in their, um, their left shoulder or someplace like that or to the side. So you can feel it in different places, but it gets your attention.

Erica:

Yes, it

Dr. Charles Barr:

what is that?

Erica:

And that's, that's,

Dr. Charles Barr:

is that?

Erica:

that's, what's so strange about it being generally harmless. Cause it does not feel generally harmless. It feels like. It feels like you should be getting ready to gear up and pay attention because your body's trying to tell you something and it's, and

Dr. Charles Barr:

That's right.

Erica:

what you think it is, is a heart attack or a heart issue or heart murmur.

Dr. Charles Barr:

yes. There's the first thought that comes in. Am I having a heart

Erica:

And there you are in the ER suddenly. And I always thought that sounded a little funny, like, well, I've never gone to the ER for an anxiety attack now I get it because your body thinks you and your body make the assumption and kind of rightfully, I mean, not rightfully so, but, um, understandably so that, you know, this could be really an emergency situation.

Dr. Charles Barr:

Well that's right, because you know something isn't right, because your, your chest isn't supposed to be doing that and your heart isn't supposed to be doing that. You're not supposed to be feeling this way. Um, so it, it, like I said, it's, it's like, we're hardwired. We can't seem to ignore it, which is, you know, when I went to see the doctor, when I had the quadrant Germany, he said, well, lots of people live with that. You don't have to have medication for that. You know, it's not harmful, you know, it's not dangerous. It's like, yes, but it is really uncomfortable and annoying, you know? So I'd like something. Um, so he agreed to give me something

Erica:

well, that's

Dr. Charles Barr:

because it is because it, it grabs your attention all the time. Um,

Erica:

I think, I think the thing we don't realize though, is a lot of times, and like, what I had to do was say, well, what, what just happened? What did I do differently today? Or what's. Since this doesn't happen, normally, what would I do differently today? Or if it does happen normally, what am I doing every day? And I think, um, I don't think we always give herbal teas or supplements the credit they deserve because they can be very strong. Herbs can be strong caffeine for sure. Can do that. I mean, we already,

Dr. Charles Barr:

for sure. Caffeine can. Yeah.

Erica:

Pregnancy can have some really weird, I mean, I had my first pregnancy a year ago now, and man, I can just bring on just about anything. So that's one of

Dr. Charles Barr:

yes it can. Yes. So those kinds of hormonal shifts that go on during pregnancy, or maybe even just during, during a woman's menstruation period, you know, it's like, yes, that, that can bring it on. Um, There things sometimes alcohol can. Um, so you. Try to try to determine, okay. Is there a cause here that I can determine often there is no. Cause you can determine, uh, you had the experience with the herbal tea. I was taking an herbal supplement that I got from someone at my office. I got some from him and um, all of a sudden my heart just. Dysregulated all over the place. Um, I ended up going to the doctor and, um, trying to get it. Reregulated what come to find out the herbal tea that I was using was mushroom based or the supplement I was taking was a mushroom based supplement. I hadn't looked at it that closely to know that. So was like, okay, did I ever quit that?

Erica:

Yeah. I mean, there's some weird things. I think I told you guys recently, I had a weird reaction to a. A nose spray. I mean, who knows, you know, you, you generally say, Oh yeah, I'll take that. That'll be fine. And even sometimes things you were okay with past, like I've had this TB before it's called throat coat and I use it cause I'm a voiceover artist. So I was using it to give my voice, you know, some moisture. And so I've done. I've I've had this too. Yeah, plenty of times it's never happened. So that's, what's strange too. We've talked about and might be a good time to go back to the sensitivity episode if you can. Um, just on how things affect us, because remember, if you have anxiety, you're most likely a sensitive person, which means you're sensitive to all kinds of stimulants and medication. And we really, I think did a pretty good job breaking that down in those episodes if you want to go back. But, um, yeah, that, I, I think it's, it can be a mystery, like what heart palpitations what's going on. Well, you know, if you have anxiety anyway, to the supplements on top of anxiety are not going to help.

Dr. Charles Barr:

That's all right. Well, okay. So your first response, when you get a heart, palpitation is. Heart attack was a big question, Mark. Um, so how do you know whether this is something that's dangerous or something that's not dangerous? Um, it sometimes is very difficult to tell. And, and part of the problem is, is we add the second fear. Um, We have a first fear and we can't control that if I hurt, does a flip flop or it's FIPs a beat, or it beats an extra beat, we're going to feel it somewhere. And, that causes and alarm reaction inside us. That's the hard wire and we can't. We can't not do that, but what we can control is the second fear. So we've got the first fear that is hardwired. And second fear is okay, what are we going to say to ourselves about this? What are we going to do with this? And that makes all the difference in the world in terms of what you ended up saying to yourself and ultimately what kind of reaction you will end up with.

Erica:

right. Reassuring yourself. You're okay. First of all. Most likely you're fine. Yeah.

Dr. Charles Barr:

It's sort of like, okay, so. I have a heart palpitation. Uh, is it continuing or did it just happen once? Uh, am I feeling worse other than being scared? You know, getting a little bit of adrenaline. Um, am I having other other pains? Uh, am I having pain down my left arm? Am I having pain somewhere else in my body?

Erica:

droopy face slurred speech, I think are both stroke symptoms.

Dr. Charles Barr:

if all of a sudden, uh, along with that, you break into a cold sweat, um, you're feeling nauseated and things like that. I suggest you go ahead and call the doctor or, um, go to the ER and get yourself checked out because we don't want you to call it a panic attack and you are having a heart attack. So, so here's, here's the difference between a possibility signs and probability signs, is it possible you're having a heart attack it's possible. Um, are there any other corroborating symptoms that come along with it? Most of the time, there are not, you know, if, if. If what you're experiencing is true, heart palpitations. That's usually all you get, you got this funny feeling in your chest or throat or a top of your stomach or arm or what, you know, and that's it, you know, you're not getting anything else.

Erica:

right. And I will say I got a little dizzy after my heart palpitations, but I, that was because I got scared. Um, I, I, and I realized I'm really hold. And I said, Oh, look, I'm holding my breath. That's why I'm so scared. So I just tightened up, you know, I was like, Whoa. And then it, I tightened up and then I got scared. And so I realized, well, I told myself if I can't, if I can do a body relaxation right now, and if I can feel like I've calmed down and gotten myself back then, I know it's not an emergency. And I've pretty much already knew it was, but that was just my way of talking to myself. Cause I had gotten scared. I still do get scared from time to time. I'm not, I'm not immune to, you know, um,

Dr. Charles Barr:

I think none of us are immune to feeling scared sometimes.

Erica:

Um, so, but yeah, I think that's also another way to check is can you, can you get relaxed or are you cause when you really can't breathe, cause this is, uh, shortness of breath is also a symptom. Um, if you really can't breathe, you'll you'll really know, there's a difference between panic, shortness of breath and. Real shortness of breath. So I think basically you would kind of know if it's truly an emergency, but don't forget at the same time, all of these things can also create a lot of anxiety, um, like say similar symptoms, like you might feel dizzy or short of breath or sweating or nauseous. That can be anxiety too. So it's, it's a little tricky, um,

Dr. Charles Barr:

It can be

Erica:

to know which is which

Dr. Charles Barr:

well. And, and like I was saying, and I want people to hear this from me, you know, uh, I will do my deep breathing and at the end of letting all the air out, I would get a heart palpitation. So it's like, okay. At the very point where I should be the most relaxed, that's where I would get a heart palpitation, which is why I ended up pairing it with the relaxed feeling. So when I went on, you know, and I was good at relaxing, um, I am very, very good at relaxing

Erica:

tell me to relax. I relax.

Dr. Charles Barr:

and, so. All of a sudden, after I went on the beta blockers, I would do my relaxation and that feeling would not be there. And it's like, what's wrong? Why can't I get that

Erica:

Oh, yo, you

Dr. Charles Barr:

You know? Cause I still hadn't made the connection that that's Oh, that's heart palpitation. That's not relaxation.

Erica:

Now is this common, what you were going through? That's something that you could have a

Dr. Charles Barr:

Oh, I suspect it may not

Erica:

Okay. Cause I don't, I've never had anything like that, but I'm just wondering, I

Dr. Charles Barr:

No, I think that it is, it is common. Uh, I have heart palpitations when you are relaxing. It's not necessarily at the, at the very end of the breath, but as you start to let the stress go, um, I've had several people who, when they've been working out, they're doing fine, but as they start to cool down, their heart will go in the palpitations as they come through the cooldown period. and that's very concerning. You know, what's wrong with my heart, nothing wrong with your heart. Your heart just took you up to 160 beats a minute. As you were working out, there's nothing wrong with your heart. Your heart is just. Reregulating magnets doing some funny things as it slows down.

Erica:

Yeah. And I, I would say that one way to really prevent these heart palpitations. Most of the time is to regularly be doing relaxation exercises. If this is very concerning to you, that this is happening. Um, I think it's more typical than not that if you do the body relaxation exercises regularly, you're going to start preventing having the heart palpitations sneak up on you from anxiety. Um, as far as caffeine and supplements, you, you've got to decide for yourself if you're going to give that stuff up. But if it's coming truly from anxiety, um, healthy, healthy diet of being doing these relaxation exercises should really start freeing you up from, from those symptoms, which, um, which is nice because that's something you can do without any side effects. I mean, generally accepted dr. Barr's case, but, uh, for the most part, yeah. If you're doing these.

Dr. Charles Barr:

I never said I wasn't strange.

Erica:

That's true. You are a psychologist. So maybe you have your own like relationship with these sorts of mental health things or I don't know. Um, but, but,

Dr. Charles Barr:

Oh, that's

Erica:

I know for me, like with depersonalization, I was, when I first met you, I was like, okay. I like basically I would have given you a million dollars, if you could tell me how to stop having depersonalization. And when I started doing body relaxation exercises, it went away. I don't get it anymore. It just doesn't happen. Um, unless, you know, it could happen to me. I wasn't taking care of myself and I got extremely in over like an extreme overload of stress. I might. I might have like a hiccup and then go do a relaxation, exercise it, exercise, and it would fade. Um, but I used to have it consistently. So I just want to drive home the point that these are, I, I understand that this probably scares you. It scared me the other day, but, um, yeah, if you want to stop dealing with it, that might be your answer right there.

Dr. Charles Barr:

Yes, it might be. And, and I, and so that, that really is one of the frontline tools that you're going to want to try. If you're having heart palpitations to see if that will make a difference in how you're feeling and how your heart regulates itself, so that it's not responding to stress by giving you extra beats or a skip beat or that kind of thing.

Erica:

Yeah, it's pretty remarkable. What these relaxation exercises can do for you. Um, the other thing I wanted to note is if you, if this has been happening and you're taking different medications or supplements, or, or even if you just suffer with anxiety and you get heart palpitations, uh, you can keep the journal of what time it happened. And, um, if you had just had coffee or, or if, um, you would have coffee in your day or, you know, just, and you can always share that with your medical doctor, if you're afraid, but just on the other side, I think

Dr. Charles Barr:

That's really good. I, I

Erica:

um, but I would also recommend really getting good at the relaxation exercises. Cause that's usually not prescribed by a doctor. They might mention it to me, I think that's everything, but. Um, medication certainly could be right for you. I'm not going to say it's not,

Dr. Charles Barr:

Well, and it's interesting because, um, if you're having heart palpitations and you take, let's see you, you're on Xanax or Adavan and you take a Xanax and, uh, your heart palpitations quit. Well, Xanax is not a heart medication. Xanax is an anxiety medication. So there's a direct link between the anxiety that you're feeling and the heart palpitations that are happening. And, If you want a heart medication, then you would probably be prescribed a beta blocker of some kind, and that would more regulate the heart itself. And sometimes doctors will do that for stage fright,

Erica:

Oh, wow.

Dr. Charles Barr:

it helps regulate the heart rhythm. And so people don't get anxious. It's it tends to block the anxiety cause their heart doesn't take off and erase on. so I'm one of the beta blockers is often used for state fright and musicians actors.

Erica:

that you're talking about. This is okay.

Dr. Charles Barr:

no. This is a beta blocker.

Erica:

Now what about an antidepressant though? Can that cause like something like Zoloft, can that cause heart palpitations, if any of the side effects.

Dr. Charles Barr:

Um, I think any of the medications that we use in these classes, um, can, that can be one of the side effects. Uh, if you have been on a medication for a long, long time and all of a sudden. You start having heart palpitations. It probably is not that medication, but if you just started, let's say your doctor gave you an antidepressant and you started that and now you're having heart palpitations. It may well be that that's one of the side effects. Uh, it's an unwanted side effect for sure. so you would need to talk with the doctor about that and see about changing medications.

Erica:

interesting.

Dr. Charles Barr:

the here's the bottom line is we want you to use your best judgment

Erica:

Yeah.

Dr. Charles Barr:

observe what's happening to your body. If it, if it feels progressive to you, uh, go ahead and, and call the doctor or go to, um, urgent care or emergency room and get checked out so that you get the reassurance so that then you can tell yourself with. The authority that no, this is just a heart palpitation and it's not dangerous. See if you can say that to yourself, with the doctor's authority behind it, then you're going to believe it. You need to see what the timing is it, you know, is it, is it that time of month? if you're a woman, is it connected with, with having a menstrual cycle? Oh, where is that? You know, so that you can, uh, try to see what is related to the heart palpitations.

Erica:

Yes, definitely.

Dr. Charles Barr:

overall heart palpitations, a lot of people have heart. Yeah. And they just live with them. And you know, those folks who aren't real sensitive, oftentimes don't end up in the emergency room cause they kind of go, huh, that was weird. And they go on, they notice it, you know, they, they note that they have it, but they don't add the second fear. And. So they just live learned to live with it and that's fine. And they don't think twice about it when it happens. It's like, Oh yeah, there's that? And

Erica:

Yes. And if it has, if it has happened to you, um, I mean, some of the most normal, wonderful people I know have ended up in the emergency room afraid of what it meant. I was scared of it the other day. So just remember you're not alone and if it has scared you that's okay.

Dr. Charles Barr:

If it scares you

Erica:

that's pretty

Dr. Charles Barr:

and if it scares you and you can't, you can't kind of get your mind back away from it. Go see your

Erica:

Yeah. Or call your doctor, you can always call or email. Um, but don't feel crazy. You're not, you're really normal actually. All right. Well, this was, I hope this was helpful. I think it should be. Cause now that I got a little piece of what it's like, I was actually really interested in this podcast episode and all of dr. Barr's wisdom that he always brings.

Dr. Charles Barr:

well, I just want you guys to not be afraid and, and not frightened yourselves. Your body is an amazing instrument and, uh, it can do some very strange things that aren't dangerous. So. That's part of what we're trying to learn.

Erica:

And if you want to relax with us with actually with dr. Bar, you can get our free, raw relaxation, audio@lifefreeofanxiety.com slash relax. That's when we really recommend to a com the body so that this becomes less of an issue. Are you all right? Well, we will see you guys next week. Thanks for being here.

Dr. Charles Barr:

Bye. Bye.

Erica:

well, it was definitely fun to get back with you guys and to get this episode out for you. Um, we just a reminder, we are having the change program. Come back next week. You can find more information@change.com. That's changed with two A's and get your free book now free from fears. Free from fears is the foundation of the change program. So it's a really easy freeway to find out more if you want to join us this next time. All right. Well, thank you for being here today. I hope you found this episode useful and we will talk next week. Thanks so much for tuning in today. I hope that something in today's conversation provided you with a feeling of hope, determination, or purpose. I know what you're going through, and that's why I want to give you some of the tools that helped me in my anxiety journey to get a free copy of free from fears had to free from fears, book.com to find out more about the changing anxiety treatment program. Find us@changewithtwoways.com. Thanks again for listening. And remember you were not broken. You were not alone, and you were on your way to living a life free of anxiety. See you next week.

EPISODE: Heart Palpitations: When to Worry and When to Relax
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Heart Palpitations
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