Tachycardia is a fast heart rate (more than 100 beats per minute) that starts in the heart’s lower chambers (ventricles). At these elevated rates, the heart is not able to efficiently pump oxygen-rich blood to your body.
Tachycardia can occur in either the upper heart chambers (atrial tachycardia) or lower heart chambers (ventricular tachycardia).
Causes of tachycardia include:
- Heart-related conditions such as high blood pressure (hypertension)
- Poor blood supply to the heart muscle due to coronary artery disease (atherosclerosis), heart valve disease, heart failure, heart muscle disease (cardiomyopathy), tumors, or infections
- Other medical conditions such as thyroid disease, certain lung diseases, electrolyte imbalance, and alcohol or drug abuse
- Emotional stress or drinking large amounts of alcoholic or caffeinated beverages
Symptoms of tachycardia include:
- Shortness of breath
- Sudden weakness
- Fluttering in the chest
Certain conditions can increase your risk of developing tachycardia:
- Coronary artery disease (atherosclerosis)
- Heart failure (poor pumping heart)
- Heart attack (myocardial infarction)
- Congenital heart defects (condition you are born with)
- Inflammatory or degenerative heart conditionsChronic lung disease
Diagnosing the Cause of Heart Palpitations
The cause of heart palpitations can be very difficult to diagnose, especially if the palpitations don’t occur while you are in the doctor’s office.
Your physician will probably conduct a thorough physical examination to identify a cause.
Be prepared to answer questions about your physical activities, stress levels, prescription and over-the-counter medication and supplement use, and previously diagnosed health conditions.
If necessary, your doctor may refer you to a heart specialist (cardiologist). Tests to help rule out certain diseases or heart problems include:
- blood tests
- urine tests
- a stress test
- Holter monitor (a portable machine that records the heart’s rhythm for 24 hours)
- echocardiogram (ultrasound of the heart)
- electrocardiogram (EKG)
- X-ray of the chest
- electrophysiology study (EPS, to check the heart’s electrical function)
- coronary angiography (to check how blood flows through your heart)
Treatment for Heart Palpitations
Treatment depends on the cause of your palpitations. Any underlying medical conditions will have to be addressed.
Most of the time, no cause for palpitations is found, and no treatment is advised.
If your palpitations are due to controllable lifestyle choices such as smoking or too much caffeine, simply cutting down or eliminating those substances may be all that is needed.
If you think medication may be the problem, ask your doctor about alternative medications or treatments.
Preventing Heart Palpitations
If your doctor tells you that treatment is not necessary, there are steps you can take to decrease your chance of palpitations:
- Keep a log of your activities, as well as the foods and beverages you eat. Note incidents of heart palpitations.
- Try to identify your triggers and avoid them.
- If you are anxious or stressed, try relaxation exercises, deep breathing, yoga, tai chi, etc.
- Limit or stop your intake of alcohol and caffeine.
- Don’t smoke or use tobacco products.
- If medication is causing palpitations, ask your doctor if there are any alternatives.
- Exercise regularly.
- Stick to a healthy diet and try to keep blood pressure and cholesterol levels under control.