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Is Your Heart Racing? The Valsalva Maneuver Can Help, MD Says

A doctor shares how and when to do this technique to slow your racing heartbeat.

Do you have a racing heartbeat? If so, you may want to learn about the Valsalva maneuver. According to WebMD, this breathing technique can slow down a heart that's beating a bit too quickly, helping it return to its normal flow. Doctors also utilize this method to check how efficiently your heart's functioning.

We spoke with Mike Bohl, MD, MPH, ALM, the Director of Medical Content & Education at Ro and a member of our Medical Expert Board, who shares exactly what you should know about the Valsalva maneuver. Keep reading to learn more.

What is the Valsalva maneuver?

mature woman doing the Valsalva maneuver

According to Dr. Bohl, "The Valsalva maneuver is a breathing technique that is sometimes used as a non-invasive medical test and that can also be performed to normalize ear pressure, help stabilize the trunk during weight lifting, and lower certain kinds of elevated heart rate."

How exactly do you perform the Valsalva maneuver? Using force, you'll try to breathe out while working against a closed airway. You can accomplish this by closing your mouth while pinching your nose, or keeping your glottis closed.

"The Valsalva maneuver works by increasing the pressure inside of your chest," Dr. Bohl adds. "This affects the amount of blood the heart pumps forward and the amount of blood that flows back to the heart, which in turn signals the autonomic nervous system to regulate your heart rate and blood pressure."

Keep in mind that you should only do the Valsalva maneuver for a total of 10 to 15 seconds. If you have any questions whatsoever, get in touch with your healthcare provider.

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The Valsalva maneuver isn't a treatment for stress or anxiety.

Dr. Bohl points out that this breathing technique is not utilized to treat stress or anxiety. Instead, it can be an incredibly productive tool to help lower the heart rate of individuals dealing with supraventricular tachycardia, which is a kind of arrhythmia. "If you're having an episode of supraventricular tachycardia and have a racing heartbeat, doing the Valsalva maneuver may help bring your heart rate back down to its normal rate," he explains.

If you are experiencing stress or anxiety, consider trying box breathing. This method will have you inhaling for four seconds, holding your breath for another four seconds, exhaling for four seconds, holding for four more seconds, then repeating. "Box breathing is a type of deep breathing that can be relaxing and may help in times of stress," Dr. Bohl says.

Alexa Mellardo
Alexa is the Mind + Body Deputy Editor of Eat This, Not That!, overseeing the M+B channel and delivering compelling fitness, wellness, and self-care topics to readers. Read more about Alexa