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Tachycardia (Fast Heart Rhythm)

Tachycardia occurs when a person’s heart beats more than 100 times per minute (the normal resting heart rate for adults is 60 to 100 beats per minute). There are various types of tachycardia, including:

  • Atrial fibrillation
  • Atrial flutter
  • Supraventricular tachycardia
  • Ventricular fibrillation
  • Ventricular tachycardia

Causes of Tachycardia

The heart’s electrical system usually helps it pump at a normal speed and with a normal rhythm. But when something disrupts this system, it can cause the heart to pump too quickly (tachycardia), too slowly (bradycardia) or with an abnormal rhythm (arrhythmia).

Some of the things that can cause the heart to beat at an abnormally fast rate include:

  • Conditions such as anemia, an electrolyte imbalance, high blood pressure (hypertension), low blood pressure (hypotension) and hyperthyroidism
  • Drinking too much alcohol or caffeine
  • Smoking
  • Taking certain medications
  • Using stimulant drugs such as cocaine and methamphetamines
  • Being in a stressful situation

Symptoms of Tachycardia

As was noted above, the hallmark symptom of tachycardia is an abnormally fast heartbeat. This can prevent the heart from pumping sufficient amounts of oxygen- and nutrient-rich blood to the rest of the body, which can cause:

  • Chest pain
  • Heart palpitations
  • Shortness of breath
  • Lightheadedness
  • Fainting (syncope)

In some instances, individuals experiencing tachycardia won’t show any noticeable symptoms. When this happens, tachycardia will generally only be detected during diagnostic testing for an unrelated condition.

Diagnosing Tachycardia

Physicians often order the following diagnostic tests to confirm the presence of tachycardia:

  • Chest X-rays
  • Computed tomography (CT) scans
  • Coronary angiograms
  • Echocardiograms
  • Electrocardiograms (EKGs)
  • Electrophysiological tests
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans
  • Stress tests
  • Tilt table tests

Treatment for Tachycardia

Because tachycardia can lead to serious, life-threatening complications if left untreated—including heart attack, heart failure and stroke—it’s important to promptly seek treatment for this condition.

The cardiovascular experts at Tampa General Hospital often treat tachycardia by managing whatever underlying condition is causing the patient to experience an abnormally fast heart rate. For example, if a patient is experiencing tachycardia as a result of high blood pressure, our team may prescribe blood pressure medication. We may also recommend that patients make certain lifestyle changes as needed, such as:

  • Eating a more nutritious, heart-healthy diet
  • Losing excess weight
  • Reducing alcohol and caffeine intake
  • Quitting smoking and recreational drug use
  • Managing stress levels

Other treatment options for tachycardia include:

  • Medication such as anti-arrhythmic medication, beta blockers and calcium channel blockers
  • Cardioversion
  • Catheter ablation
  • Vagal maneuvers
  • Insertion of a pacemaker or an implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD)
  • Surgery