Can Hunger Cause Heart Palpitations?

Erin Coleman, R.D., L.D.
Woman feeling heart palpitation

If you're hungry and have had heart palpitations, there could be a direct correlation. Heart palpitations can occur during times of hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), which can happen when you're hungry. This is especially true if you're taking diabetes medications.

The Hunger-Heart Connection

PubMed Health confirms low blood sugar can lead to heart palpitations. Dehydration and low potassium, which may occur when you're hungry or thirsty, can also cause palpitations, says Harvard Health Publications. However, just because you're hungry doesn't mean you'll experience heart palpitations.

Causes of Low Blood Sugar

Low blood sugar can happen in people with diabetes who take medications like insulin (or oral medications) to lower blood sugar. These medications are designed to help decrease high blood sugar levels in diabetes patients.

But you can experience low blood sugar even if you don't have diabetes. MedlinePlus and Mayo Clinic say causes of low blood sugar in people without diabetes include:

  • Drinking alcohol (drinking heavily on an empty stomach)
  • Lack of thyroid or cortisol hormones
  • Insulinoma (pancreatic tumor that produces too much insulin)
  • Severe kidney, heart, or liver failure
  • Anorexia
  • Sepsis (whole body infection)
  • Some weight loss surgeries
  • Certain antibiotics, heart medications, and kidney mediations
  • Nesidioblastosis (overproduction of insulin due to pancreatic beta cell enlargement)
  • Adrenal or pituitary gland disorders, resulting in hormone deficiencies

Symptoms of Low Blood Sugar

How do you know if palpitations are happening during times of low blood sugar? Watch out for additional signs of hypoglycemia, such as:

  • Headache
  • Weakness or tiredness
  • Fast, pounding heartbeat
  • Irritability
  • Nervousness
  • Feeling hungry
  • Trembling or shakiness
  • Sweating
  • Unclear thinking
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Numbness or tingling of the skin
  • Pale skin
  • Anxiety

More severe symptoms of hypoglycemia may include confusion, blurred vision, seizures, and even loss of consciousness. If these occur in conjunction with heart palpitations, there's a good chance hunger is the culprit.

Why Palpitations Happen With Hypoglycemia

When blood sugar is low, the body doesn't function the way it's supposed to because glucose (sugar) is a main fuel source. A 2012 review published in the Indian Journal of Endocrinology and Metabolism says low blood sugar increases hormones like epinephrine, which may alter blood flow to the heart and affect its ability to beat properly.

Prevention and Treatment

Keeping blood sugar levels in check is one way to prevent or treat heart palpitations. Do this by regularly monitoring blood sugar if you're taking insulin or diabetes medications and check in with your doctor regularly to be sure your medication regimen is on track. Don't skip meals and eat at regular times each day.

Self-help strategies for steering clear of heart palpitations include cutting back on caffeine, avoiding nicotine and alcohol, reducing stress and anxiety, maintaining a healthy weight, eating small regular meals, getting recommended amounts of sleep, and drinking plenty of fluids.

If your blood sugar suddenly drops and is causing palpitations, eat something containing simple sugar with a high glycemic index to boost blood sugar as quickly as possible. If your blood sugar is below 70 mg/dL, MedlinePlus recommends foods with about 15 grams of carbs like:

  • 3 glucose tablets
  • 1/2 cup of fruit juice
  • 5 to 6 hard candies
  • 1 tablespoon of honey

If your blood sugar doesn't go up within 15 minutes, eat another 15 grams of carbs and if your blood sugar is still low, it's time to call your doctor.

Other Causes

Low blood sugar is likely the cause of palpitations during hunger, but there are other reasons palpitations occur. If you're experiencing palpitations regularly, talk with your doctor to rule out other causes like anemia, overactive thyroid, or heart problems.

When to Seek Help

PubMed Health says palpitations are common and aren't harmful in many cases. However, if self-help strategies don't make palpitations go away and they become bothersome, ask your doctor about options like beta blocker medications or ablation (a medical procedure). Get hormone levels checked to rule out imbalances. Harvard Health Publications suggests calling your doctor's office or an emergency number immediately if you experience dizziness, shortness of breath, chest pain, or fainting along with heart palpitations, as these are signs of serious heart problems.

Can Hunger Cause Heart Palpitations?