Tachycardia is the medical term for a heart that is beating at over 100 beats per minute. At times, this is a normal, even healthy occurrence. If you are exercising, for example, you may experience a heart rate well above 100 BPM. However, tachycardia is meant to describe a fast heartbeat that is unrelated to exercise or stress. In these cases, a quickened heartbeat can signify serious heart problems.
A quickened heartbeat may mean that your body is unable to get oxygen-rich blood to the rest of the body.
- Shortness of breath
- Chest Pain
- Rapid Pulse
- Heart Palpitations
Tachycardia may be caused by anything that disrupts the normal rhythm of electrical impulses in the heart. Sometimes, this is relatively harmless. In other cases, it can signify a serious - potentially life-threatening - heart condition.
- High or low blood pressure
- Excessive caffeine use
- Excessive alcohol or stimulant drug use
- Anemia (iron deficiency in the blood)
- Hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid)
- Medication side effects
In addition to these causes, a family history of heart rhythm abnormalities, or a personal history of heart problems may put you at greater risk for tachycardia. The strain on the heart caused by factors such as smoking, alcohol use, obesity, and high blood pressure (among other factors) may also increase your risk for tachycardia.
An episode of a quickened heart rate may go away within a few moments of stimulation; for instance, your pulse might jump if you are suddenly frightened.
If left untreated, however, tachycardia may lead to serious complications such as:
- Heart failure
- Blood clots that lead to stroke or heart attack
- Frequent spells of unconsciousness or fainting
- Sudden death
If you experience unexplained symptoms of tachycardia or have any symptoms of chest pain or difficulty breathing, seek emergency medical care immediately.
Below is a list of common treatment options for tachycardia. During your appointment, talk to your health care provider about your health history, any medical conditions you may have, and the symptoms you are experiencing. This will help your provider determine the treatment plan that is right for you.
Catheter ablation is a procedure in which small catheters are inserted into various parts of the body (usually your arms, neck, and groin) and guided through blood vessels to the heart. These catheters then use radiofrequency waves to damage extra electrical pathways that may be causing a quickened heartbeat. In many cases, this process completely cures abnormal heart rhythms, and only needs to be performed once.
Also known as an ICD, this device is implanted under the skin to monitor your heartbeat and detect any abnormalities (including tachycardia). If a quickened heartbeat is detected, the device will send electrical pulses to the heart to restore a normal rhythm. This process cannot be felt by the individual wearing the ICD and has been shown to stop life-threatening episodes of tachycardia.
To prevent future episodes of tachycardia, your doctor may prescribe anti-arrhythmic medication such as amiodarone (Pacerone). As a treatment for other heart problems that may be causing the quickened heartbeat, you may also be prescribed a calcium channel blocker or beta-blocker to lower blood pressure.
Before starting treatment with an anti-arrhythmic or heart pressure medication, talk to your health care provider about your health history and any reactions to prescription drugs you may have had in the past. These medications can help prevent abnormal - even life-threatening - heart rhythms, but can also result in serious adverse side effects for some.