Tachycardia

Tachycardia (fast heart rate) is when your heart rate is 100 beats per minute or more at rest.

Atria, ventricles, and the electrical circuitry of the heart

The human heart consists of four chambersTrusted Source: the atria, which are the two upper chambers, and the ventricles, which are the two lower chambers. (There are left and right atria and ventricles.)

The heart has a natural pacemaker, called the sinoatrial node, in the right atrium. This produces electrical impulses. Each one triggers an individual heartbeat.

As the electrical impulses leave the sinoatrial node, they cross the atria, making the atrial muscles contract. This contraction pushes blood into the ventricles.

The electrical impulses continue to the atrioventricular (AV) node, which is a cluster of cells. The AV node slows down the electrical signals, then sends them on to the ventricles.

In doing so, it allows time for the ventricles to fill with blood. When the ventricular muscles receive the electrical signals, they contract, pumping blood either to the lungs or to the rest of the body.

A problem with the electrical signals can result in a faster-than-normal heartbeat. This is tachycardia.

What causes or increases my risk for tachycardia?

It is normal for the heart rate to increase with activity or exercise and then decrease when you stop. A fast heart rate at rest may be caused by any of the following:

  • Anxiety, stress, or pain
  • Fever
  • Physical fatigue or strenuous exercise
  • Large amounts of caffeine such as coffee, tea, and energy drinks
  • Heavy alcohol use, cigarette smoking, or drugs such as cocaine
  • Some medicines, such as inhalers, cold medicines, and hypertension medicines
  • Increased thyroid hormone level

What other symptoms may I have with a fast heart rate?

You may have no other symptoms with your fast heart rate, or you may have any of the following:

  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Chest pain
  • Fluttering or pounding heart
  • Shortness of breath

How is a fast heart rate treated?

You may need treatment if your fast heart rate continues or happens often. You may need medicine, procedures, or surgery. Your provider may also send you to a cardiologist for other tests.

How do I check my heart rate (pulse)?

Your healthcare provider will show you how to check your pulse, and how often to check it. Write down how fast your pulse is and if it feels regular or like it is skipping beats. Also write down the activity you were doing if your heart rate is above 100. Bring the information with you to your follow-up appointment.

What can I do to help manage or prevent a fast heart rate?

  • Talk to your healthcare provider about all your current medicines. He or she may change a medicine if it is causing your fast heart rate. Do not stop taking any medicine unless directed by your provider.
  • Have less caffeine. Caffeine can increase your heart rate.
  • Limit or do not drink alcohol. Alcohol can increase your heart rate. Ask your healthcare provider if it is okay for you to drink any alcohol. He or she can help you set limits for the number of drinks you have in 24 hours and in a week. A drink of alcohol is 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1½ ounces of liquor.
  • Do not smoke. Nicotine and other chemicals in cigarettes can cause damage to your heart. Ask your healthcare provider for information if you currently smoke and need help to quit. E-cigarettes or smokeless tobacco still contain nicotine. Talk to your healthcare provider before you use these products.
  • Do not use illegal drugs. Drugs such as meth and cocaine can increase your heart rate. Talk to your healthcare provider if you use illegal drugs and want to quit.
  • Get more rest. Fatigue can cause your heart rate to increase. Ask your healthcare provider about the best exercise plan for you.

Eat heart-healthy foods. These include fruits, vegetables, whole-grain breads, low-fat dairy products, beans, lean meats, and fish. Replace butter and margarine with heart-healthy oils such as olive oil and canola oil.