Tachycardia is the technical term for a fast heartbeat. In a normal adult, the heart beats at approximately 60 to 100 BPM. However, several potential concerns can cause the heart to beat much more quickly. Tachycardia is relatively common in the United States and the most common form is atrial fibrillation or Afib. Approximately five million Americans live with occasional or even persistent Afib, causing lifestyle impediments, visits to the ER and general concern about their heart health. Tachycardias can be roughly separated into two kinds:

Supraventricular tachycardia or SVT involve the chambers of the heart above the ventricles. This means that the fast heartbeat stems from the atria or upper chambers and / or the connection between the upper and lower chambers. Patients with SVT can experience heart beats of up to 220 beats per minute or higher. Because the heart is beating too rapidly, the amount of blood pumped throughout the body is diminished. While SVTs often need treatment, they are rarely life threatening – rather they can cause significant discomfort and eventually lead to cardiovascular problems.

Ventricular tachycardia or VTs occur when the lower chambers of the heart, or ventricles, beat in a fast and uncontrolled manner. Typically, these tachycardias are more concerning and potentially deadly. However, the concern largely depends on the presence and severity of other cardiovascular issues as well as the severity of the VT itself.

Causes of Tachycardia

The causes of tachycardia are many and varied and can include genetic disorders, congenital issues and even lifestyle choices that can be reversed. Some of the most common causes of tachycardia (those that a patient can address) include smoking, drug use, drinking too much alcohol or caffeine and not exercising enough. Tachycardias can also be caused by heart disease, lung disease, certain thyroid disorders and even medication. A diagnosis from a qualified electrophysiologist can go a long way toward understanding the exact causes of tachycardia.

Symptoms of Tachycardia

Most people will experience chest symptoms related to the exceptionally fast heartbeat. This may include pounding or pain in the chest, shortness of breath, dizziness and even fainting. Sweating excessively and feeling weak are also common symptoms. These symptoms should not be ignored, not only because tachycardia should be address in its earliest stages, but also because other cardiovascular disorders may have similar symptoms and we need to rule out more serious concerns.

What is normal?

It is important to remember that not all rapid heartbeats are a result of a structural or electrical abnormality of the heart. As we all know, our heart rate increases for a few reasons including being frightened, anxious and stressed as well as other causes including drugs, fever cardiovascular disease and medication. Our emotions and exercise can increase our heart rate dramatically.

Treatment for Tachycardia

Lifestyle changes, medication and cardiac ablations are the three most common ways to address tachycardia. The treatment plan for tachycardia, whether supraventricular or ventricular largely depends on the type of arrhythmia as well as the severity of symptoms. As stated above, some tachycardias do not pose a significant immediate threat to the patients’ health and can therefore be treated in a stepwise approach, starting with lifestyle change and medication. Other tachycardias can lead to cardiac arrest and the need for immediate defibrillation – even the long-term use of an implantable cardioverter defibrillator or ICD.

Ultimately, it is important to visit your primary care physician for regular checkups and follow their advice on heart screening. Any abnormal heart rhythm issues should be referred to a qualified cardiologist or electrophysiologist like Dr. Banker. Of course, if you believe you’re having a medical emergency, do not wait for a call back from your doctor, rather go to the ER or call 911 immediately.