What is Tachycardia?
A normal heart rate typically falls between 60 and 100 beats per minute. A heart rate faster than 100 BPM is typically considered by doctors to be abnormally fast. Tachycardia, or fast heart rate, is not always considered to be a serious issue, depending on other factors such as age, fitness level, and strenuous exercise. However, when the heart is beating too fast, it may not be able to pump enough blood to the rest of the body. Suboptimal blood flow can mean that the brain and other organs are not getting enough oxygen. An elevated heart rate can also cause over-exertion which may damage the heart, increasing the risk of heart attack.
What Are The Causes of Tachycardia?
Tachycardia is typically caused by abnormalities in the electrical signals which pass through the heart and causing it to expand and contract in order to pump blood throughout the body. Types of tachycardia are named for the part of the heart which they impact. These include:
- Sinus tachycardia: Named after the sinus node, which is the body’s natural pacemaker. This occurs when the sinus node sends out electrical impulses at an abnormally high rate of speed, causing the heart to beat more rapidly than it should.
- Supraventricular tachycardia (SVT): This describes an irregular heartbeat which originates from electrical signals misfiring in the upper heart, above the ventricles.
- Ventricular tachycardia: When electrical signals in the lower chambers of the heart become too fast or irregular, it may keep the ventricles from properly contracting. This is a very serious issue and may cause blood pressure to suddenly plunge dangerously, depriving vital organs of necessary oxygen.
While tachycardia is often tied to other underlying heart conditions such as arrhythmia, atrial fibrillation (A-fib), high blood pressure, or heart disease, it can also be brought on by a number of other factors. A fever can cause an elevated heart rate, as can high amounts of stress or physical activity. Some patients may also develop an abnormally fast heart rate due to the glandular disorder hyperthyroidism or to the side effects of certain medications.
What Are The Signs And Symptoms of Tachycardia?
When your heart is not properly pumping enough blood to the rest of your body, you may feel fatigued, dizzy, or lightheaded, even to the point of fainting in some cases. You may feel other cardiac symptoms such as shortness of breath, chest pain, or the feeling of your heart pounding, fluttering, or skipping a beat. Symptoms may be regular or intermittent, and will often become more pronounced during or after strenuous physical exercise. Any of these symptoms should be reported to a cardiologist.
What Are The Risk Factors of Tachycardia?
Heredity is an important part of the equation, and you are more likely to develop tachycardia if you have a family history of arrhythmia or atrial fibrillation. Some common lifestyle contributors include smoking, excess use of caffeine or alcohol, or use of illegal drugs such as cocaine. Heart issues like tachycardia are more common in older adults, and your risk naturally increases as you age due to natural wear and tear on the tissue of your heart.
How is Tachycardia Diagnosed?
Your doctor will begin by reviewing your medical history, including any past cardiac issues, health problems which may run in your family, and any medications that you are currently taking. They will evaluate your heart rate by testing your pulse and blood pressure. An electrocardiogram (EKG) will show irregularities in your heartbeat, but may not be definitive because tachycardia symptoms can come and go rather than being constant throughout the day. You may be asked to wear an ambulatory ECG monitor for 24 hours in order to evaluate heart function over a longer period. This may also help to determine whether any specific activities are contributing to irregular heart rhythms. An exercise stress test may be ordered to gauge the effect of physical activity on your heartbeat.
What Are Possible Treatments For Tachycardia?
Tachycardia will not always require medical treatment, or may respond to conservative lifestyle methods such as exercise or changes in diet or medication. Treatment for an abnormally fast heart rate will depend on the underlying cause of the issue and whether you have any related or underlying conditions. Your doctor may prescribe medications to regulate or slow your heartbeat. In some cases, a pacemaker may be installed to maintain a normal heartbeat.
Are There Preventative Steps or Measures To Avoid Tachycardia?
Not everything that increases your risk of tachycardia is within your control, but there are steps you can take in order to minimize the likelihood of an issue emerging. Some of the most straightforward measures include getting enough sleep, exercising regularly, eating a healthy diet, moderating your intake of alcohol and caffeine, and quitting nicotine. It’s also important to manage stress and any underlying heart health issues like blood pressure and cholesterol. Moreover, it’s important to schedule regular visits to a cardiologist – especially as you get older – in order to make sure that any potential issue is being spotted early on.
What Are The Risks If Tachycardia Is Left Untreated?
While a fast heart rate is not always a significant cause for concern, unaddressed tachycardia may increase your risk of several different health complications. Increasing fatigue, lightheadedness, or fainting spells could occur. You may also be at an increased risk of developing secondary issues like blood clots, stroke, or heart attack. In severe cases, heart failure and even death may happen as a result of heartbeat irregularities.
Are There Other Related Conditions To Tachycardia?
Tachycardia is often associated with arrhythmias, particularly atrial fibrillation (A-fib). Other issues which may contribute to tachycardia include high blood pressure and overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism).
Key Takeaways About Tachycardia (Top 3-5 points to remember from everything)
Tachycardia describes an abnormally fast heart rate, usually defined as anything above 100 beats per minute. This issue is caused by a disruption of the natural electrical impulses in your heart which result in the heart expanding and contracting too quickly so that it is not able to pump sufficient blood to the brain and other organs. It can emerge as a result of a hereditary heart issue or because of lifestyle habits such as poor diet, lack of exercise, or excessive intake of alcohol or stimulants. While tachycardia does not always require treatment, it can be dangerous if left unaddressed, leading to heart complications which may include heart attack and stroke.