What Is Tachycardia

Overview

Tachycardia is a condition characterized by a heart rate that exceeds the normal resting rate, typically defined as a heart rate of over 100 beats per minute (BPM) in adults.1 Tachycardia can be caused by a range of factors, including medical conditions, medications, and lifestyle habits. It is important to identify the underlying cause of tachycardia, as well as to manage and treat the condition, to prevent potentially serious complications. This article will provide an overview of the types, causes, signs and symptoms, management and treatment, diagnosis, risk factors, and complications of tachycardia.

Types of tachycardia

Tachycardia can manifest in different forms,1,2 with several types existing such as:

  • Atrial fibrillation (AFib): This is the most common type of tachycardia and is characterized by an irregular heartbeat that originates in the atria of the heart
  • Supraventricular tachycardia (SVT): This type of tachycardia occurs when an abnormal electrical impulse starts in the upper chambers of the heart (atria) and disrupts the normal rhythm of the heart
  • Ventricular tachycardia (VT): This type of tachycardia originates in the ventricles of the heart and can lead to a fast, irregular heartbeat that can be life-threatening
  • Sinus tachycardia: This type of tachycardia occurs when the heart's normal pacemaker, the sinus node, fires at a faster than normal rate

Causes of tachycardia

There are several factors that can contribute to the development of tachycardia, including:

  • Medical conditions: Tachycardia can be caused by medical conditions such as hyperthyroidism, heart disease, hypertension, and lung disease1
  • Medications: Certain medications, such as asthma medications and decongestants, can cause tachycardia as a side effect
  • Lifestyle habits: Certain lifestyle habits, such as consuming too much caffeine or alcohol, smoking, and stress, can contribute to tachycardia1
  • Genetic factors: Some individuals may have a genetic predisposition to tachycardia

Signs and symptoms of tachycardia

Symptoms of tachycardia can vary depending on the underlying cause, the individual's age, and overall health. Some common signs and symptoms of tachycardia include:3

  • Rapid heartbeat: A heart rate over 100 BPM is often the first and most noticeable symptom of tachycardia
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness: A rapid heartbeat can cause a drop in blood pressure, which can lead to feelings of dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Shortness of breath: Tachycardia can cause a rapid increase in heart rate, which can lead to difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • Chest pain: In some cases, tachycardia can cause chest pain or discomfort

Management and treatment for tachycardia

  1. Lifestyle changes: Making lifestyle changes such as reducing caffeine and alcohol intake, quitting smoking, and managing stress can help reduce the risk of tachycardia1
  2. Medications: Medications such as beta-blockers, calcium channel blockers, and anti-arrhythmic medications may be prescribed to help manage tachycardia1
  3. Medical procedures: In some cases, medical procedures such as catheter ablation, cardioversion, or implantation of a pacemaker may be necessary to manage tachycardia

Diagnosis of tachycardia

To diagnose tachycardia, a physical examination, review of medical history, and a range of tests are typically conducted. Some commonly used tests to diagnose tachycardia include:

  1. Electrocardiogram (ECG): This is a non-invasive test that records the electrical activity of the heart and can help identify irregular heart rhythms
  2. Holter monitor: This is a portable ECG device that records the heart's electrical activity over a 24-48 hour period
  3. Echocardiogram: This is an imaging test that uses sound waves to create pictures of the heart and can help identify structural abnormalities or heart disease

Risk factors & complications

As previously highlighted, there are several risk factors that can increase the likelihood of developing tachycardia such as: 4

  • Medical conditions: Certain medical conditions such as hyperthyroidism, heart disease, and lung disease can increase the risk of tachycardia
  • Age: Tachycardia is more common in older individuals
  • Lifestyle habits: Certain lifestyle habits such as consuming too much caffeine or alcohol, smoking, and stress can increase the risk of tachycardia

If however the condition is left untreated, tachycardia can lead to serious complications such as:

  • Heart failure: Tachycardia can put an increased strain on the heart, which can lead to heart failure.
  • Blood clots: Tachycardia can increase the risk of blood clots, which can lead to a stroke or pulmonary embolism
  • Sudden cardiac arrest: In rare cases, tachycardia can lead to sudden cardiac arrest, which is a life-threatening emergency

FAQs

How common is tachycardia

Tachycardia is a relatively common condition, affecting millions of individuals worldwide.

How can I prevent tachycardia

Making lifestyle changes such as reducing caffeine and alcohol intake, quitting smoking, and managing stress can help reduce the risk of tachycardia.

When should I see a doctor

If you experience symptoms of tachycardia such as a rapid heartbeat, dizziness, shortness of breath, or chest pain, you should seek medical attention.

Summary

Tachycardia is a medical condition characterized by an abnormally high resting heart rate, which can be caused by various factors, including underlying medical conditions, medication use, or lifestyle habits. Symptoms of tachycardia can include a rapid heartbeat, dizziness, shortness of breath, or chest pain. Diagnosis usually involves a physical examination, a review of medical history, and various tests, such as electrocardiogram (ECG) or echocardiogram. Treatment options can include lifestyle changes, medications, or medical procedures, depending on the underlying cause of tachycardia. Age and pre-existing medical conditions can increase the risk of developing tachycardia. If left untreated, tachycardia can lead to severe complications, such as heart failure, blood clots, or sudden cardiac arrest. It is essential to seek medical attention if symptoms of tachycardia are experienced.

References

  1. Gopinathannair R, Olshansky B. Management of tachycardia. F1000Prime Rep [Internet]. 2015 May 12 [cited 2023 Apr 20];7. Available from: https://facultyopinions.com/prime/reports/m/7/60/
  2. Martin CA, Lambiase PD. Pathophysiology, diagnosis and treatment of tachycardiomyopathy. Heart [Internet]. 2017 Oct 1 [cited 2023 Apr 20];103(19):1543–52. Available from: https://heart.bmj.com/content/103/19/1543
  3. American Heart Association. Tachycardia: fast heart rate [Internet]. www.heart.org. 2022 [cited 2023 Apr 20]. Available from: https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/arrhythmia/about-arrhythmia/tachycardia--fast-heart-rate
  4. Cierpka-Kmieć K, Hering D. Tachycardia: The hidden cardiovascular risk factor in uncomplicated arterial hypertension. Cardiol J [Internet]. 2020 Dec 31 [cited 2023 Apr 20];27(6):857–67. Available from: https://journals.viamedica.pl/cardiology_journal/article/view/62631 
This content is purely informational and isn’t medical guidance. It shouldn’t replace professional medical counsel. Always consult your physician regarding treatment risks and benefits. See our editorial standards for more details.

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Aisha Mohamed

BSc (Hons) Nursing Studies (Adult), Nursing, Glasgow Caledonian University

Aisha Mohamed is a Registered Nurse (RN) with a Bachelor of Science degree in Nursing. With a strong academic background, Aisha has developed a comprehensive understanding of the medical field and has a deep commitment to providing quality patient care. Aisha currently works in clinical research specialty as she is passionate about improving community health through scientific medical research. These skills translate to her writing, as she is able to convey important medical information in a way that is easy for readers to understand.

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