Rapid heartbeat

Medical quality assurance by Dr. Albrecht Nonnenmacher, MD at December 14, 2015
StartSymptomsRapid heartbeat

Rapid heartbeat can be a serious medical issue. It is formerly called tachycardia. There are three types of rapid heartbeat, each varying in cause, severity, and treatment.


Definition & Facts

In an adult a heart rate of more than one hundred beats per minute is called tachycardia. Tachycardia means “too fast.” There are three types of tachycardia. Atrial tachycardia is when the quickening happens in the upper part of the heart. If a heart is beating too quickly then blood can’t properly flow through the body.

Sinus tachycardia is the kind of rapid heartbeat most commonly experienced. The heart is beating faster than normal, but it’s beating properly. Ventricular tachycardia is, when the quickening starts in the lower chambers of the heart. This is the most severe kind of rapid heartbeat. Sometimes people can live with it. Sometimes it is life-threatening.


Atrial tachycardia is often seen in people who drink a lot of coffee, people who are physically fatigued, heavy smokers, heavy drinkers, and young people with anxiety. Electrical signals in the heart tell it when to beat. In Atrial tachycardia, the signals in the upper chamber of the heart come too soon. If child has a rapid heartbeat, it is most commonly atrial.

Women are also more likely than men to experience Atrial tachycardia. Rapid heartbeat caused by Sinus tachycardia is caused by steady exercise, anxiety, fever, and fear. Sometimes it can be caused by heart damage after a heart attack, hemorrhage, increased activity in the thyroid, or anemia. Ventricular tachycardia is the more serious kind of rapid heartbeat. It is often caused by a disorder.

Some of the possible causes are cardiomyopathy; a blood clot in the coronary artery that blocks blood flow and keeps the heart from getting enough oxygen; a reaction to certain medications; or sarcoidosis. Cardiomyopathy is a grouping of diseases that hurt the heart. They can make the heart muscle rigid, thick, or enlarged. Sarcoidosis is an inflammatory disease. It affects some body tissues and skin.

When to see a doctor

With rapid heartbeat caused by Atrial tachycardia, it’s important to see the doctor if it lasts for a long time or happens often. Some serious symptoms are unconsciousness and cardiac arrest, so one should see a doctor if experiencing frequent chest pain, shortness of beat, or dizziness.

For Sinus tachycardia, one should see a doctor if the rapid heartbeat seems to have no obvious cause or it’s interfering with daily life. Because Ventricular tachycardia is the most severe, it is important to see a doctor as soon as possible. Dizziness, lightheadedness, unconsciousness, and having the heart stop are all symptoms of Ventricular tachycardia.

If a person is unconscious or their heart stops beating, they should be taken to the hospital as fast as possible. Ventricular tachycardia isn’t life-threatening in all cases, however. It depends on how often it occurs, and whether or not it is occurring because of a disease. For any rapid heartbeat problems, see a doctor if it affecting daily life.

Treatment & Therapy

Atrial tachycardia treatment often involves lifestyle changes. Cut back on coffee and alcohol. Stop smoking. Sleep more. A person experiencing rapid Atrial heartbeat can also gently press on their eyeballs with their eyes closed.

Another option is to quickly submerge oneself in cold water. If this doesn’t work, a doctor can massage the neck in a certain spot as therapy. Only if problems persist should a doctor be needed. For Sinus tachycardia, it’s important to figure out what is causing the rapid heartbeat. If there isn’t an obvious cause, it can be a symptom of a bigger underlying problem. If the heart rate is just slowed without investigating why a person has Sinus tachycardia, more damage might be done.

For Ventricular tachycardia, treatment really depends on why the rapid heartbeat is occurring. All treatments require a doctor. In some cases of Ventricular tachycardia, electrical defibrillation is the solution. This involves shocking the heart with electricity to get it to resume a normal rhythm. Other cases require medication. Sometimes surgery is necessary to treat this problem. One final treatment option is radiofrequency ablation. This works similarly to electrical defibrillation, except instead of electricity it uses radiofrequency energy.

It’s almost like the heat put out by a microwave. The procedure is painless. It kills a tiny number of heart cells in a very small area. This stops those cells from creating the irregular, rapid heartbeat. Treating a rapid heartbeat isn’t simple. The very first steps are cutting out coffee and alcohol. If that changes nothing, consult with a doctor. Treating tachycardia requires knowing what type a person is experiencing. Most cases of Sinus- and Ventricular tachycardia require medical assistance. A person should not try to treat a rapid heartbeat problem alone. Consulting with a doctor is the best first step in rapid heartbeat treatment.

Prevention & Prophylaxis

The best way to prevent Atrial tachycardia is to avoid consuming a lot of caffeine, alcohol, or smoking. Sinus tachycardia is generally not something that can be prevented. Day to day things like exercise, stress, and anxiety cause Sinus tachycardia. However, sometimes it is a symptom of a larger problem.

Anemia is one of the reasons for a rapid sinus heart rate. Consume plenty of iron to avoid anemia. Ventricular tachycardia is caused more commonly by an existing disease, so that is difficult to prevent. It is also caused by a blockage in the coronary artery. While not guaranteed, the best way to prevent a block in the coronary artery, it is important to stay healthy.

Eat a balanced diet, exercise regularly, and avoid tobacco and alcohol. Overall, the best way to prevent suffering from a rapid heartbeat is to live moderately. Annual check-ups with a doctor are important as well. By seeing a doctor regularly, the heart is monitored periodically so any change will be noticed immediately.

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