Learn more about the symptoms and treatment of this heart rhythm disorder, which causes a rapid heart rate.
Tachycardia (tak-ih-KAHR-dee-uh) is the medical term for a heart rate over 100 beats a minute. Many types of irregular heart rhythms, called arrhythmias, can cause tachycardia.
A fast heart rate isn't always a concern. For instance, the heart rate usually rises during exercise or as a response to stress.
Tachycardia may not cause any symptoms or complications. But sometimes it's a warning of a medical condition that needs attention. Some forms of tachycardia can lead to serious health problems if left untreated. Such problems may include heart failure, stroke or sudden cardiac death.
Treatment for tachycardia may include specific actions or movements, medicine, cardioversion, or surgery to control a rapid heartbeat.
There are many different types of tachycardia. Sinus tachycardia refers to a usual increase in the heart rate often caused by exercise or stress.
Other types of tachycardia are grouped according to cause and the part of the heart causing the fast heart rate. Common types of tachycardia caused by irregular heart rhythms include:
In tachycardia, an irregular electrical signal, called an impulse, starts in the upper or lower chambers of the heart. This causes the heart to beat faster.
Some people with tachycardia have no symptoms. The fast heartbeat may be discovered when a physical exam or heart tests are done for another reason.
In general, tachycardia may cause these symptoms:
Many things can cause tachycardia. If you feel like your heart is beating too fast, make an appointment for a health checkup.
Seek immediate medical help if you have:
A type of tachycardia called ventricular fibrillation is an emergency that requires immediate medical attention.
During ventricular fibrillation, blood pressure drops dramatically. The person's breathing and pulse stop because the heart is not pumping any blood to the body. This also is called cardiac arrest. The person usually falls down, also called collapses.
If this happens, do the following:
Tachycardia is an increased heart rate for any reason. If a fast heart rate is caused by exercise or stress, it's called sinus tachycardia. Sinus tachycardia is a symptom, not a condition.
Most heart conditions can lead to different forms of tachycardia. Irregular heart rhythms, called arrhythmias, are one cause. An example of an irregular heart rhythm is atrial fibrillation (AFib).
Other things that may lead to tachycardia include:
Sometimes the exact cause of tachycardia is not known.
To understand the cause of tachycardia, it may be helpful to know how the heart usually works.
The heart has four chambers:
Inside the upper right heart chamber is a group of cells called the sinus node. The sinus node makes the signals that start each heartbeat.
The signals move across the upper heart chambers. Then the signals arrive at a group of cells called the AV node, where they usually slow down. The signals then go to the lower heart chambers.
In a healthy heart, this signaling process usually goes smoothly. The resting heart rate is typically 60 to 100 beats a minute. But in tachycardia, something causes the heart to beat faster than 100 beats a minute.
In a typical heartbeat, a tiny cluster of cells at the sinus node sends out an electrical signal. The signal then travels through the atria to the atrioventricular (AV) node and into the ventricles, causing them to contract and pump blood.
In general, things that may raise the risk of irregular heart rhythms that commonly cause tachycardia include:
Lifestyle changes or treatment of heart conditions may lower the risk of tachycardia.
When the heart beats too fast, it may not pump enough blood to the body. As a result, the organs and tissues may not get enough oxygen.
Complications of tachycardia depend on:
Potential complications of tachycardia may include:
The best way to prevent tachycardia is to keep the heart healthy. Have regular health checkups. If you have heart disease, follow your treatment plan. Take all medicines as directed.
Try these tips to prevent heart disease and keep the heart healthy:
Talk to your healthcare team before using any medicines. Some cold and cough medicines have stimulants that may start a rapid heartbeat. Illegal drugs such as cocaine and methamphetamine are other stimulants that can cause changes in the heart's rhythm.
To diagnose tachycardia, a healthcare professional examines you and asks questions about your symptoms, health habits and medical history.
Tests may be done to confirm an unusually fast heartbeat and to look for the cause. Tests to diagnose tachycardia may include:
Electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG). This quick test checks the heartbeat. Sticky patches, called electrodes, are attached to the chest and sometimes to the arms or legs. An ECG shows how fast or how slow the heart is beating.
Some personal devices, such as smartwatches, can do ECGs. Ask your care team if this is an option for you.
Electrophysiological (EP) study. This test may be done to confirm a diagnosis of tachycardia. It can help find where in the heart the incorrect signaling occurs. An EP study is mostly used to diagnose some specific types of tachycardias and irregular heartbeats.
During this test, one or more flexible tubes are guided through a blood vessel, usually in the groin, to various areas in the heart. Sensors on the tips of the tubes record the heart's electrical signals.
An electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG) is a simple test to determine how the heart is beating. Sensors, called electrodes, are placed on the chest to record the heart's electrical signals. The signals are shown as waves on an attached computer monitor or printer.
The goals of tachycardia treatment are to slow a rapid heartbeat and to prevent future episodes of a fast heart rate.
If another health condition is causing tachycardia, treating the underlying problem may reduce or prevent episodes of a fast heartbeat.
A fast heart rate may correct itself. But sometimes medicine or other treatments are needed to slow down the heartbeat.
Ways to slow a fast heart rate include:
Tachycardia treatment involves taking steps to prevent the heart from beating too fast. This may involve medicines, implanted devices, or heart surgeries or procedures.
Catheter ablation. In this procedure, the doctor inserts thin, flexible tubes called catheters through a blood vessel, usually in the groin. Sensors on the tip of the catheters use heat or cold energy to create tiny scars in the heart. The scars block irregular electrical signals. This helps restore a typical heartbeat.
Catheter ablation doesn't require surgery to reach the heart, but it may be done at the same time as other heart surgeries.
If you have tachycardia or any type of heart disease, it's important to take steps to keep your heart healthy. Steps include lifestyle changes such as eating a heart-healthy diet, getting regular exercise, and not smoking or using tobacco. Your care team also may suggest that you limit or avoid caffeine.
Stress-relief techniques, such as meditation and yoga, might help slow the heartbeat. This can reduce tachycardia symptoms.
If you have a plan to manage an episode of a fast heartbeat, you may feel calmer and more in control when one occurs. Ask your care team:
If you have tachycardia, you may see a doctor trained in heart conditions. This type of healthcare professional is called a cardiologist. You also might see a doctor trained in heart rhythm disorders, called an electrophysiologist.
There's often a lot to discuss at a health checkup. It's a good idea to be prepared for your appointment. Here's some information to help you get ready.
Make a list ahead of time that you can share with your healthcare team. Your list should include:
Basic questions to ask your healthcare professional include:
Don't hesitate to ask additional questions.
Your healthcare team is likely to ask you many questions. Being ready to answer them may save time to go over any details you want to spend more time on. Your care team may ask: