Tachycardia

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Definition

What is tachycardia?

Tachycardia is a condition that occurs when the heart beats faster than normal while at rest.

Normally, your heart rate rises during exercise or as a physiological response to stress, trauma or illness (sinus tachycardia). But in tachycardia, the heart beats faster than normal in the upper or lower chambers of the heart or both while at rest.

Your heart rate is controlled by electrical signals sent across heart tissues. Tachycardia occurs when an abnormality in the heart produces rapid electrical signals that quicken the heart rate, which is normally about 60 to 100 beats a minute at rest.

How common is tachycardia?

Tachycardia seems to affect people over 60 years old than other ages. If you have a family history of tachycardia or other heart rhythm disorders, you may have an increased risk of tachycardia.

However, it can be managed by reducing your risk factors. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.

Symptoms

What are the symptoms of tachycardia?

As your heart is beating too fast, it may not pump blood effectively to the rest of your body. This can deprive your organs and tissues of oxygen and can cause the following tachycardia-related signs and symptoms:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Lightheadedness
  • Rapid pulse rate
  • Heart palpitations — a racing, uncomfortable or irregular heartbeat or a sensation of “flopping” in the chest
  • Chest pain
  • Fainting (syncope)

However, some people with tachycardia have no symptoms, and the condition is only discovered during a physical examination or with a heart-monitoring test called an electrocardiogram

When should I see my doctor?

Early diagnosis and treatment can stop this condition from worsening and prevent another medical emergency, so talk to your doctor as soon as possible to prevent this serious condition.

If you have any questions, please consulting with your doctor. Everyone’s body acts differently. It is always best to discuss with your doctor what is best for your situation.

Causes

What causes tachycardia?

Tachycardia is usually caused when something disrupts the normal electrical impulses that control the rate of your heart’s pumping action.

Some conditions can cause or contribute to problems with the heart’s electrical system. These include:

  • Damage to heart tissues from heart disease
  • Abnormal electrical pathways in the heart present at birth (congenital heart conditions, including long QT syndrome)
  • Disease or congenital abnormality of the heart
  • Anemia
  • Exercise
  • Sudden stress, such as fright
  • High or low blood pressure
  • Smoking
  • Fever
  • Drinking too much alcohol
  • Drinking too many caffeinated beverages
  • Medication side effects
  • Abuse of recreational drugs, such as cocaine
  • Imbalance of electrolytes, mineral-related substances necessary for conducting electrical impulses
  • Overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism)
  • In some cases, the exact cause of tachycardia can’t be determined.

Risk factors

What increases my risk for tachycardia?

You may have higher risks for this condition if you are experiencing these following conditions:

  • Heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Sleep apnea
  • Overactive or underactive thyroid
  • Smoking
  • Diabetes
  • Heavy alcohol use
  • Heavy caffeine use
  • Use of recreational drugs
  • Psychological stress or anxiety
  • Anemia

Diagnosis & treatment

The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.

How is tachycardia diagnosed?

If your doctor suspects that you experience tachycardia, he/she will perform a physical exam to determine this condition.

Some tests may be recommended to determine tachycardia may include:

  • Electrocardiogram (ECG)

An electrocardiogram, also called an ECG or EKG, is the most common tool used to diagnose tachycardia. It’s a painless test that detects and records your heart’s electrical activity using small sensors (electrodes) attached to your chest and arms.

  • Holter monitor

This portable ECG device is carried in your pocket or worn on a belt or shoulder strap. It records your heart’s activity for an entire 24-hour period, which provides your doctor with a prolonged look at your heart rhythms.

  • Event monitor

This portable ECG device is intended to monitor your heart activity over a few weeks to a few months. You wear it all day, but it records only at certain times for a few minutes at a time.

  • Electrophysiological test

Your doctor may recommend an electrophysiological test to confirm the diagnosis or to pinpoint the location of problems in your heart’s circuitry.

  • Cardiac imaging

Imaging of the heart may be performed to determine if structural abnormalities are affecting blood flow and contributing to tachycardia.

  • Echocardiogram (echo)

An echocardiogram creates a moving picture of your heart using sound waves. An echo can identify areas of poor blood flow, abnormal heart valves and heart muscle that’s not working normally.

  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)

A cardiac MRI can provide still or moving pictures of how the blood is flowing through the heart and detect irregularities.

  • Computerized tomography (CT)

CT scans combine several X-ray images to provide a more detailed cross-sectional view of the heart.

How is tachycardia treated?

  • Vagal maneuvers

Vagal maneuvers affect the vagus nerve, which helps regulate your heartbeat. The maneuvers include coughing, bearing down as if you’re having a bowel movement and putting an ice pack on your face.

  • Medications

If vagal maneuvers don’t stop the fast heartbeat, you may need an injection of an anti-arrhythmic medication to restore a normal heart rate. An injection of this drug is administered at a hospital.

  • Cardioversion

In this procedure, a shock is delivered to your heart through paddles, an automated external defibrillator (AED) or patches on your chest. The current affects the electrical impulses in your heart and restores a normal rhythm. It’s generally used when emergency care is needed or when maneuvers and medications aren’t effective.

Lifestyle changes & home remedies

What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage tachycardia?

Some people with tachycardia have an increased risk of developing a blood clot that could cause a stroke or heart attack. Your doctor may prescribe a blood-thinning medication to help lower your risk.

Exercise and weight loss can help limit some of the health risks associated with tachycardia by reducing the negative effects of high blood pressure and sleep apnea.

If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Review Date: July 3, 2017 | Last Modified: July 3, 2017

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