Tachycardia

Overview

Definition

Tachycardia is a fast heartbeat. It is a rate of more than 100 beats per minute.

It is normal for the heart to beat faster with exercise or stress. However, some fast heart beats are abnormal. They are called arrhythmias. Some arrhythmias can be life-threatening. They need to be treated.

Electrical System and Chambers of the Heart
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Causes

Signals in the heart control how the heart beats. Tachycardia is caused by abnormal signals.

Risk Factors

Things that raise the risk of tachycardia are:

  • Heart problems, such as:
    • A prior heart attack
    • Cardiomyopathy—heart muscle disease
    • Myocardial ischemia—poor blood flow to the heart
  • Electrolyte problems—too much or too little calcium, sodium, magnesium, and potassium in the blood
  • Hypoxemia—not enough oxygen in the blood
  • Acidosis—too much acid in the body’s fluids

SymptomsandDiagnosis

Symptoms

Symptoms of tachycardia are:

  • Pounding heartbeats
  • Fast heartbeats
  • Lightheadedness or fainting
  • Chest pain
  • Problems breathing

Diagnosis

Your doctor will ask about symptoms and past health. A physical exam will be done.

Tachycardia is usually diagnosed with an electrocardiogram (ECG). Patches are placed on the chest, arms, and legs—to check heart activity.

Other tests may be:

  • Holter monitor—a device worn to measure heart activity over 24 to 48 hours
  • Exercise test—to see if symptoms happen during physical activity
  • Electrophysiology study—wires placed inside the heart to see where the abnormal rhythm starts
  • Cardiac catheterization—a tube put through a blood vessel to check blood flow to the heart

Treatments

Treatment

The goal is to slow the fast heartbeats and prevent them from happening again. This includes treating any conditions that are causing the fast heartbeats.

Fast heartbeats that are life-threatening need care right away.

Care options may be:

  • Medicines to:
    • Slow the heartbeats
    • Prevent blood clots
    • Lower blood pressure
    • Treat other underlying conditions
  • Ablation—destroying some heart tissue with cold or heat, to block abnormal signals
  • Cardioversion—an electric shock to reset the heart, which is used for:
    • Life-threatening rhythms—ventricular tachycardia or ventricular fibrillation
    • Milder rhythm problems such as atrial fibrillation
  • An implantable cardiac device (ICD)—put under the skin to check heart activity and shock abnormal rhythms

Device to Correct Tachycardia
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Prevention

The risk of tachycardia may be lowered by:

  • A healthful diet, daily exercise, and not smoking
  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Avoiding or limiting caffeine and alcohol
  • Managing stress
  • Getting regular physical exams
  • Treating health problems, such as high blood pressure or high cholesterol

This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.

Edits to original content made by Denver Health.

a (Ventricular Tachycardia; Supraventricular Tachycardia; Paroxysmal Atrial Tachycardia)

RESOURCES

American Heart Association http://www.heart.org 

Heart Rhythm Society http://www.hrsonline.org 

CANADIAN RESOURCES

Canadian Heart Rhythm Society http://www.chrsonline.ca 

Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada http://www.heartandstroke.ca 

References

Arrhythmias. American Heart Association website. Available at: https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/arrhythmia. Accessed September 10, 2021.

Cardioversion of atrial fibrillation. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/procedure/cardioversion-of-atrial-fibrillation. Accessed September 10, 2021.

Implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD). EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/device/implantable-cardioverter-defibrillator-icd-16. Accessed September 10, 2021.

Littmann L, Olson EG, et al. Initial evaluation and management of wide-complex tachycardia: a simplified and practical approach. Am J Emerg Med. 2019;37(7):1340-1345.

Risk factors & prevention. Heart Rhythm Society website. Available at: https://upbeat.org/early-warning-signs#axzz3NOr35s6f. Accessed September 10, 2021.

Supraventricular tachycardia (SVT). EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/supraventricular-tachycardia-svt. Accessed September 10, 2021.

Tachyarryhthmias. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/approach-to/tachyarrhythmias-approach-to-the-patient. Accessed September 10, 2021.

Ventricular tachycardia—approach to the patient. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/approach-to/ventricular-tachycardia-approach-to-the-patient. Accessed September 10, 2021.