Tachycardia is the medical term for a heart rate above 100 beats per minute. Many heart rhythm disorders (arrhythmias) can cause tachycardia.
Sometimes it’s normal to have a fast heartbeat. For example, it is normal for your heart rate to increase during exercise or in response to stress, trauma or illness. But in the case of tachycardia, the heart beats faster than normal due to conditions unrelated to normal physiological stress.
In some cases, tachycardia causes no symptoms or complications. But if left untreated, tachycardia can disrupt normal heart function and lead to serious complications, including:
– Heart failure
– Sudden cardiac arrest or death
Treatments, such as medications, medical procedures, or surgery, can help control a rapid heartbeat or manage other conditions contributing to tachycardia.
- 1 Types of tachycardia
- 2 Symptoms of Tachycardia
- 3 Main causes of tachycardia
- 4 Understanding Tachycardia: The Electrical System of the Heart
- 5 Risk factors
- 6 Possible complications of tachycardia
- 7 Prevention
Types of tachycardia
There are many types of tachycardia. They are grouped according to the part of the heart responsible for the rapid heartbeat and the cause of the abnormally fast heartbeat. Common types of tachycardia are:
Atrial fibrillation is a rapid heartbeat caused by chaotic and irregular electrical impulses in the upper chambers of the heart (atria). These signals result in rapid, uncoordinated, and weak contractions of the atria. Atrial fibrillation may be temporary, but some episodes will not stop unless treated. Atrial fibrillation is the most common type of tachycardia.
In the case of atrial flutter, the atria of the heart beat very quickly but at a regular rate. This rapid rhythm results in weak contractions of the atria. Atrial flutter is caused by irregular circuits within the atria. Episodes of atrial flutter may go away on their own or require treatment. People with atrial flutter also often present with atrial fibrillation at other times.
Supraventricular tachycardia (SVT)
Supraventricular tachycardia is an abnormally rapid heartbeat that begins somewhere above the lower chambers of the heart (ventricles). It is caused by an abnormal circuit in the heart, usually present at birth, which creates an overlapping signal loop.
Ventricular tachycardia is a rapid heartbeat that begins with abnormal electrical signals in the lower chambers of the heart (ventricles). The rapid heart rate does not allow the ventricles to fill and contract efficiently to pump enough blood around the body. Episodes of ventricular tachycardia can be brief and last only a few seconds without causing harm. But episodes that last more than a few seconds can become a life-threatening medical emergency.
Ventricular fibrillation occurs when rapid, chaotic electrical impulses cause the heart’s lower chambers (ventricles) to quiver instead of pumping the blood needed by the body. This phenomenon can be fatal if the heart does not return to a normal rhythm in a few minutes thanks to an electric shock (defibrillation). Ventricular fibrillation can occur during or after a heart attack. Most people with ventricular fibrillation have underlying heart disease or have suffered severe trauma, such as a lightning strike.
Symptoms of Tachycardia
When your heart beats too fast, it may not pump enough blood to the rest of your body. This can deprive your organs and tissues of oxygen and cause the following signs and symptoms related to tachycardia:
– Shortness of breath
– rapid pulse
– Heart palpitations: a fast, uncomfortable, or irregular heartbeat or a “pounding” sensation in the chest
– chest pain
– Fainting (syncope)
Some people with tachycardia have no symptoms, and the condition is only discovered during a physical exam or a heart monitoring test called an electrocardiogram.
Main causes of tachycardia
Tachycardia is caused by something that disrupts the normal electrical impulses that control the rate of your heart’s pumping action. Many factors can cause or contribute to a rapid heartbeat. These include in particular:
– Drinking too many caffeinated beverages
– Excessive alcohol consumption
– Physical exercise
– High or low blood pressure
– Imbalance of electrolytes, mineral substances necessary for the conduction of electrical impulses.
– Medication side effects
– Overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism)
– To smoke
– Sudden stress, such as fear
– Use of stimulant drugs, such as cocaine or methamphetamine.
In some cases, the exact cause of the tachycardia cannot be determined.
Understanding Tachycardia: The Electrical System of the Heart
To understand the causes of heart rate or rhythm problems such as tachycardia, it helps to understand how the heart’s electrical system works.
Your heart is made up of four chambers: two upper chambers (atria) and two lower chambers (ventricles). Your heartbeat is normally controlled by a natural pacemaker called the sinus node, located in the right atrium. The sinus node produces electrical impulses that normally trigger each heartbeat. From the sinus node, electrical impulses travel through the atria, causing the ear muscles to contract and blood to pump into the heart’s lower chambers (ventricles).
The electrical impulses then arrive at a group of cells called the atrioventricular (AV) node, which is usually the only route for transmitting signals between the atria and the ventricles. The AV node slows down the electrical signal before sending it to the ventricles. This slight delay allows the ventricles to fill with blood. When the electrical impulses reach the muscles of the ventricles, they contract and pump blood either to the lungs or to the rest of the body. When something disrupts this complex system, the heart may beat too fast (tachycardia), too slow (bradycardia) or with an irregular rhythm.
As you age or have a family history of tachycardia or other heart rhythm disorders, you are more likely to develop tachycardia.
Any condition that puts pressure on the heart or damages heart tissue can increase the risk of tachycardia.
These conditions include:
– heart disease
– Excessive consumption of alcohol
– High caffeine intake
– High blood pressure
– Overactive or underactive thyroid
– Psychological stress or anxiety
– Sleep Apnea
– To smoke
– Use of stimulant drugs
Lifestyle changes or medical treatment for related health conditions may reduce your risk of tachycardia.
Possible complications of tachycardia
Complications of tachycardia depend on the type of tachycardia, how fast the heart beats, how long the rapid heart rate lasts, and whether other heart problems are present.
Possible complications include:
– Blood clots which can cause a stroke or heart attack.
– inability of the heart to pump enough blood (heart failure)
– frequent fainting or loss of consciousness
– Sudden death, usually associated only with ventricular tachycardia or ventricular fibrillation.
The most effective way to prevent tachycardia is to maintain a healthy heart and reduce the risk of developing heart disease. If you already have heart disease, monitor it and follow your treatment plan to help prevent tachycardia.
Prevent heart disease
Treat or eliminate risk factors that can lead to heart disease. Take the following actions:
– Exercise and eat a healthy diet. Adopt a heart-healthy lifestyle by exercising regularly and eating a healthy diet that is low in fat and rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
– Maintain a healthy weight. Excess weight increases the risk of developing heart disease.
– Control your blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Change your lifestyle and take prescribed medications to correct high blood pressure (hypertension) or high cholesterol.
– Stop smoking. If you smoke and can’t quit on your own, talk to your doctor about strategies or programs that will help you kick the habit.
– Drink in moderation. If you choose to drink alcohol, do so in moderation. If you choose to drink alcohol, do so in moderation. For healthy adults, that means up to one drink a day for women and up to two drinks a day for men. For some diseases, it is recommended to completely avoid alcohol. Ask your doctor for advice specific to your condition.
– Do not take recreational drugs. Do not use stimulants, such as cocaine. If you need help quitting recreational drug use, ask your doctor for an appropriate program.
– Use over-the-counter medications with caution. Some cold and cough medicines contain stimulants that can cause your heart to beat faster. Ask your doctor which drugs you should avoid.
– Limit caffeine. If you drink caffeinated drinks, do so in moderation (no more than one or two drinks a day).
– Control stress. Avoid unnecessary stress and learn coping techniques to deal with normal stress in a healthy way.
– Go to the checks provided. Have regular physical exams and report any signs or symptoms to your doctor.
– Monitor and treat existing heart conditions
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