Tachycardia is a rapid heartbeat that starts in the lower chambers of the heart (ventricles). A normal heart rate beats 60-100 times a minute when an individual is at rest. Tachycardia occurs when the pulse rate exceeds 100 beats per minute, with at least three irregular heartbeats in a row.
The heart rate is controlled by electrical impulses sent across the heart tissues. Any changes to these signals can disrupt normal heart function and trigger tachycardia. In some cases, this increases the chances of having a stroke, sudden cardiac arrest or in more severe cases, death is likely to occur.
Treatment options for tachycardia can help regulate rapid heartbeats and manage diseases leading to tachycardia.
Common signs and symptoms of tachycardia include the following:
- Rapid heartbeat
- Irregular heartbeat
- Feeling of “flopping” in the chest
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath
- Fainting spells
In some individuals, tachycardia may not pose any symptoms and the condition may be discovered once a medical examination or heart monitoring test is done.
Tachycardia is caused by a factor that disrupts the normal electrical impulses that control the rate of the heart's pumping action. A few factors that can contribute to the cause for the heart’s dysfunction include the following:
- Damage to heart tissues from heart disease
- Disease or congenital abnormality of the heart
- Intense exercise
- Increased stress levels
- High blood pressure
- Excessive alcohol consumption
- Excessive caffeine consumption
- Intake of illegal drugs
- Side effects of certain medications
- Imbalance of electrolytes
- Overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism)
Common types of tachycardia include the following:
- Atrial fibrillation: A rapid heart rate caused by chaotic electrical impulses in the atria.
- Atrial flutter: An abnormal heart rhythm that occurs in the atria of the heart.
- Supraventricular tachycardia (SVT): A faster than normal heart rate beginning above the heart's two lower chambers, usually present at birth.
- Ventricular tachycardia: A rapid heart rate that originates with abnormal electrical signals in the ventricles and doesn't allow the ventricles to fill and contract efficiently to pump enough blood to the body.
- Ventricular fibrillation: A heart rhythm problem that occurs when the heart beats with fast and unpredictable electrical impulses.
Factors that can increase the risk of tachycardia include the following:
- Being of older age
- Having a family history of Tachycardia
- Having heart disease
- Having high blood pressure
- Being a smoker
- Drinking alcohol excessively
- Drinking caffeine excessively
- Using illegal drugs
- Having psychological stress or anxiety attacks
- Having Anemia
Possible complications that can arise from tachycardia depend on the type of tachycardia, the rate and duration of a rapid heart rate, as well as the presence of other heart conditions. Possible complications include the following:
- Heart attack
- Heart failure
- Frequent fainting spells
- Sudden death
Treatment options for tachycardia aim to lower a rapid heart rate and prevent further episodes from occuring.
Common treatment methods include:
- Anti-arrhythmic medications: medications designed to restore normal heart rate.
- Vagal maneuvers: Maneuvers that can help regulate the heartbeat during an episode (coughing, crouching down and putting an ice pack on the face).
- Cardioversion: A procedure which involves delivering shocks to the heart through patches on the chest in order to trigger normal heart rhythm.
- Catheter ablation: A surgical procedure that involves removing any faulty electrical pathway accountable for an increased heart rate.
- Pacemaker: The surgical implantation of a small device under the skin to help sense any changes in the heartbeat and trigger electrical impulses to help resume a normal heart beat.
- Implantable cardioverter-defibrillator: The surgical implantation of a small device into the chest to help monitor the heartbeat, detect any abnormal increases and deliver calibrated electrical shocks to the heart to restore a normal heart rhythm.
- Open heart surgery: A surgical procedure in which the heart is exposed and the blood made to bypass it.
A few recommended measures that can help prevent tachycardia and reduce the risk of developing heart disease include:
- Eating a healthy diet
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Exercising regularly
- Keeping blood pressure levels under control
- Keeping cholesterol levels under control
- Controlling stress levels
- Quitting smoking
- Drinking alcohol and caffeine in moderation
- Avoiding using illegal drugs
- Using over the counter medications with caution
- Having regular physical exams and reporting any signs or symptoms to a doctor
- Monitoring and treating existing heart disease which can cause tachycardia