Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, and Treatment

Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, and Treatment

Tachycardia is the medical term for an elevated resting heart rate, which can occur when your heart beats more than 100 times per minute. Several factors can cause your heart to beat too fast—anxiety, underlying health conditions, problems with the heart’s electrical system, and more.

While the heart will often return to a normal heart rate on its own, tachycardia may require treatment if your rapid heart rate occurs due to another medical condition.

There are three primary types of tachycardia:

  • Sinus tachycardia: Typically, a healthy adult’s resting heart rate is 60-100 beats per minute (bpm). Sinus tachycardia causes the heart to beat faster than normal. This happens because the heart’s natural pacemaker (the sinus node) sends signals faster than usual. Exercise often causes your heart rate to rise above 100 beats per minute, which is a normal response to working out.
  • Supraventricular tachycardia (SVT): Occurs when your heart rate is faster than 100 bpm. With this condition, abnormal electrical signals from the atria (the heart’s upper chambers) make the heart beat too quickly. This can prevent the chambers from filling completely between beats and reduce blood flow to the body.
  • Ventricular tachycardia: This type of tachycardia is a fast heart rhythm that starts in your ventricles (the heart’s lower chambers) and causes a heart rate above 100 bpm. This occurs when the electrical signals in the ventricles fire faster than normal. This type of tachycardia can also cause problems with blood flow and may be potentially life-threatening if not treated.

Each form of tachycardia can cause different symptoms. Most people with sinus tachycardia have little to no symptoms, but some experience heart palpitations, chest pain, and dizziness. Supraventricular and ventricular tachycardia, on the other hand, do cause more symptoms.

Symptoms of supraventricular and ventricular tachycardia include:

Several lifestyle and medical factors can contribute to a fast heartbeat. The most common causes of tachycardia include:

  • Anxiety or emotional distress
  • Pain
  • Strenuous exercise
  • Fever
  • Medications
  • Problems with the heart’s electrical system

Risk Factors for Supraventricular Tachycardia

The most common cause of SVT is an electrical circuit problem in the heart. This happens when the normal electrical signals travel from the upper chambers to the ventricles and then go back to the atria through an extra pathway. This creates a loop that makes the heart beat too fast. The following factors can raise your risk of SVT episodes:

Risk Factors for Ventricular Tachycardia

A problem with your heart’s electrical system can also lead to ventricular tachycardia. In contrast to SVT, this type of tachycardia occurs with the electrical signals that travel in the ventricles (the two lower heart chambers). Several factors can raise your risk of this condition, including:

  • Reduced blood flow in the coronary arteries
  • Cardiomyopathy (abnormally thick heart muscle)
  • Side effects of certain medications
  • Substance use
  • Sarcoidosis (tiny inflammatory cells caused by an overactive immune system)
  • Structural heart disease
  • Congenital heart disease

If you’re noticing that your heart rate is too high or your heart is beating too fast, it’s important to talk to your healthcare provider. Your heart can give important information about the overall status of your health, so it’s essential to seek a proper diagnosis and start treatment sooner rather than later.

During your appointment, your healthcare provider will ask about your medical history, symptoms, and lifestyle habits. They’ll also measure your vitals (e.g., heart rate, blood pressure, breathing levels) and perform a physical exam. If your provider suspects tachycardia or another heart issue, they may also order one or more of the following tests:

  • Electrocardiogram (EKG): Records the heart’s electrical activity
  • Blood test: Measures potassium, calcium, magnesium, and thyroid hormone levels to provide a better picture of potential heart problems
  • Holter monitor: Assesses your heart rate and rhythm during normal and more strenuous activities
  • Tilt table test: Involves lying on a table that changes from a lying to an upright position to monitor symptoms, heart rate, and blood pressure
  • Genetic testing: Checks for heart rate changes caused by specific genes, especially if you have a family history of heart disease
  • Heart imaging test: Evaluates the heart structure and function and look for scar tissue or blockages in the heart’s arteries (blood vessels) via an echocardiogram, CT scan, or cardiac MRI

If you have sinus tachycardia, your healthcare provider will likely look to treat the cause of your high heart rate. Should you need treatment for other types of tachycardia, your healthcare provider will recommend remedies based on your symptoms, your condition’s severity, and your overall health status. Your treatment plan may involve a combination of the following:

  • Carotid sinus massage: Applies gentle pressure on a specific part of the carotid artery, but should only be done by a healthcare provider
  • Vagal maneuvers: Involves performing actions like coughing or closing the nostrils while blowing air through the nose to stimulate the vagus nerve, which may help control the heartbeat
  • Medications: Helps control heart rate and rhythm
  • Cardioversion: Delivers a shock to the heart through patches or paddles to restore a normal rhythm
  • Catheter ablation: Uses catheters to damage the cells that are causing tachycardia
  • Implantable cardioverter-defibrillator: Implants a device in your chest to manage irregular heart rhythms

Episodes of tachycardia may not always be avoidable, but to help prevent a rapid heartbeat from occurring, you can follow these steps to keep your heart healthy:

  • Eat a nutritious, heart-healthy diet
  • Exercise regularly
  • Avoid caffeine and alcohol
  • Practice relaxation techniques like yoga, meditation, or deep breathing exercises
  • Stay hydrated, especially during exercise or in hot climates
  • Avoid smoking
  • Manage underlying health conditions like high blood pressure
  • See your healthcare provider annually for heart health assessments

Tachycardia is a condition that occurs when your heart rate climbs over 100 beats per minute. There are three types of tachycardia: sinus tachycardia, supraventricular tachycardia, and ventricular tachycardia, each with its own unique causes.

Not all cases of tachycardia need treatment, but medications and procedures can help improve symptoms. Focusing on lifestyle habits like eating well, moving your body, and managing stress can also keep your heart healthy.

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