In its simplest terms, tachycardia means that you have a faster than normal heart beat. According to the Mayo Clinic, the resting heart rate of most adults is between 60 and 100 beats per minute. For persons with tachycardia, the rate is significantly higher and can affect either the upper or lower chambers of the heart. In some instances, both chambers of the heart may be affected.
In the case of tachycardia, doing the job faster does not mean that the heart is doing its job better. In fact, tachycardia is inefficient because the heart can’t deliver the supplies of blood needed since the chambers of the heart are not working together in tandem the way that they should. Some cases of tachycardia are mild and the person may not experience any symptoms, while other cases may be quite severe and life-threatening.
Tachycardia symptoms vary from person to person. Persons with mild cases may not experience any symptoms whatsoever. However, because the heart isn’t delivering blood properly, persons with this condition may experience symptoms such as chest pain or angina, heart palpitations, increased pulse, fainting, dizziness, low blood pressure, or shortness of breath.
Side effects and complications
Tachycardia can lead to some serious side effects, some of which are life-threatening. These include blood clots, stroke, sudden cardiac arrest or SCA, heart failure, fainting spells and even death.
Risk factors and other causes of tachycardia
Heart beat speed is regulated as the result of electrical impulses that tell it when to beat and how fast. For persons with tachycardia, these electrical impulses have been disrupted, which lead to the increased heart rate. There are several different types of conditions which may disrupt the electrical impulses including:
• Conditions that you are born with such as congenital heart defects
• Heart disease
• Lifestyle factors such as high blood pressure, smoking, too much alcohol consumption, too much caffeine, or recreational drug abuse
• Hyper (overactive) thyroid
• Electrolyte imbalances
Stressful situations can also increase your risk of developing tachycardia. Age also plays a factor as does family history.
Sometimes the tachycardia may revert to normal on its own without the necessity of medical intervention. If the heartbeat does not normalize on its own, your doctor may ask you to try vagal maneuvers.
Vagal maneuvers include actions such as coughing, the use of icepacks on your face, or bearing down during a tachycardia episode. Such actions put pressure on the vagus nerve and may help restore the electrical impulses to your heart to normal.
Anti-arrhythmia injections or medications such as Tambocor or Rythmol may also be prescribed to slow your heart rate and help it return to normal. In more severe cases cardioversion, or an electrical shock with paddles, may be used to slow a too fast heart rate back into normal rhythm.
Once a normal heart beat has been reestablished your doctor may recommend medications or procedures to prevent tachycardia from recurring. Commonly prescribed medications include anti-arrhythmia medications, calcium channel blockers, or beta blockers. Depending on the severity of your individual condition, your doctor may recommend more invasive procedures such as a pacemaker, implantable cardioverter-defibrillator or ICD, open heart surgery or catheter ablation.
For persons with tachycardia, it’s also important to not only treat the fast heart rate and return it to normal levels but to treat any underlying causes as well. You’ll want to work with your doctor to control conditions such as hyperthyroidism, lower high blood pressure, and address other contributing risk factors.
Christian Nordqvist. What is Tachycardia? What Causes Tachycardia? Medical News Today. 06 Jan 2010. http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/175241.php
What Is an Arrhythmia? National Heart Lung and Blood Institute. 01 Jul 2011. http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/arr
Tachycardia. The Mayo Clinic. 25 May 2011. http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/tachycardia/DS00929
Reviewed September 20, 2011
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited By Malu Banuelos