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Tachycardia: Symptoms, Causes & Treatment

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What is Tachycardia?

Tachycardia refers to a condition whereby the heart rate beats more than 100 times per minute (x). The normal heartbeat is 60-100 beats per minute and the pulse, which can be taken at the throat or wrist, usually matches the contractions of the heart’s ventricles, which are the most powerful lower chambers of the heart.

This condition can also be classified as a part of the body’s usual response to stress, fever, anxiety or massive blood loss. It can also be triggered by medical ailments like an excessively high level of thyroid hormones within the body (also known as hyperthyroidism). Some patients experience tachycardia as the by-product of a cardiac arrhythmia; which is a heart rate or rhythm abnormality of the heart.

The condition can also be triggered by lung problems like pneumonia or a blood clot located in the lung’s arteries. Tachycardia can also be a side effect of consuming certain foods and drinks like alcohol and coffee (x).

Types of Tachycardia

There are several types of tachycardia, each one different from the other in terms of its origin and what causes the abnormally fast heartbeat.

Supraventricular or Atrial Tachycardia

This form of tachycardia refers to a fast heart rate that begins in the upper chambers of the heart.  Variants of this type of tachycardia are paroxysmal atrial tachycardia (PAT) or paroxysmal supraventricular tachycardia (PSVT) (x).

With this type of tachycardia, electric signals from the heart’s upper chambers discharge abnormally. This causes an interference with the electric impulses coming from the sinoatrial node, which is the heart’s natural pacemaker.

This disruption causes the heart to beat faster than it should and it keeps the chambers of the heart from filling wholly between contractions, reducing the amount of blood flowing to the rest of the body.

Sinus Tachycardia

Sinus tachycardia is characterized by a steady increase in the heart rate (x). This type of tachycardia has the sinoatrial node, which is also known as the natural pacemaker, send out electrical signals faster than usual. In summary, the heart rate is faster than it should be, but the heart beats normally.

Ventricular Tachycardia

This type of tachycardia is a fast heart rate that begins in the heart’s lower ventricles. Ventricular tachycardia could either be life-threatening or well-tolerated, but does require immediate assessment and treatment.

Patients who suffer from this condition experience an abnormal firing of the electrical signals in the heart’s lower ventricles. This causes a disruption in the electrical impulses coming from the sinoatrial node, causing the heart rate to move faster than before, preventing the heart’s chambers from completely filling and hindering the blood flow to the rest of the body.

The level of seriousness of this condition is heavily dependent on whether another cardiac dysfunction is present in the body of the patient and the degree of the condition.

Symptoms of Tachycardia

Each type of tachycardia presents differently, which is why it is important to discuss your experience with your doctor so that the type may be determined and the correct treatment begun.

Symptoms of Supraventricular Tachycardia

Heartbeat Irregularity

Elevated heartbeat or palpitations are primary symptom of supraventricular tachycardia. Patients may also experience a bounding pulse.

Sensations in the Chest

Patients may experience a tightness in the chest, which can feel like pressure, or a the sensation of fluttering in the chest.

Fatigue

Fatigue is more than a general feeling of sleepiness, it refers more to an overwhelming tiredness which can interfere with everyday life.

Lightheaded or Shortness of Breath

A shortness of breath, or feeling breathless, can cause dizziness and a feeling of being lightheaded. Dizziness can also be caused in isolation from shortness of breath.

Fainting

This can either manifest on its own, or as a result of being breathless and dizzy.

Severe Symptoms

In extreme situations, patients with this type of condition could also experience unconsciousness and even cardiac arrest which can be fatal.

Symptoms of Sinus Tachycardia

The symptoms of sinus tachycardia are very fluid and they could range from mild to intense.

These symptoms can also come and go, making some periods easier to manage. There can be periods of time where maintaining a normal daily lifestyle is almost impossible because these symptoms so heavily hinder productivity.

Heart Flutters and Breathlessness

The most common and mild symptoms include shortness of breath (breathlessness), heart flutters and tiredness after a short workout.

Feeling Faint

Some patients have reported feeling weak, faint or dizzy when their heartbeat has increased.

Symptoms of Ventricular Tachycardia

Dizziness

Being dizzy or lightheaded is a common symptom for those with ventricular tachycardia.

Palpitations and Heart Rate

Heart rate elevation and palpitations can be caused by tachycardia.

Shortness of Breath

Feeling short of breath, or having difficulty drawing a deep breath.

Nausea

Nausea can be a stand alone symptom, or it can be caused by the dizziness and shortness of breath.

Cardiac Arrest

Cardiac arrest is a very serious situation and anyone who may be in cardiac arrest needs medical attention immediately as it can be fatal.

Symptoms of Tachycardia

Causes of Tachycardia

Cause of Supraventricular or Atrial Tachycardia

This condition is caused when the upper ventricles of heart operate abnormally, interfering with electrical signals, which causes the upper heart to beat early. When the heart beats too quickly, it does not give enough time for the heart to fill completely before it shrinks, hindering the blood flow to the rest of the body.

Risk Factors for Supraventricular Tachycardia

This is the most common type of heart arrhythmia in children. Additionally it affects women more than it does men.

Smoking

Smoking increases the heart rate and tightens major arteries, which makes your system work harder and can cause tachycardia.

Excessive Alcohol Consumption

Regular consumption of alcohol can have major impact on the cardiovascular system, one of which is causing tachycardia (x).

Anxious People

People who are regularly anxious, whether this is situational anxiety or medically diagnosed anxiety, can experience this type of heart arrhythmia.

Fatigued People

Fatigue is a state of excessive tiredness which can have a large impact on normal activity and dealing with every day life. This can be caused by an excessively busy lifestyle, ongoing sleep deprivation or it can be a symptom of another ailment. Whatever causes the fatigue itself, an increased heartbeat can result from it.

Excessive Caffeine Consumption

Those who consume more than the recommended daily intake of caffeine are at a higher risk for developing tachycardia. This caffeine over consumption can often be as a result from the above mentioned fatigue.

Causes of Sinus Tachycardia

This condition is usually a part of the body’s response to common situations and conditions.

Reaction To Medications

Sinus tachycardia can be caused as a side effect of some medications. Additionally, it may be caused by a drug interaction. Drug interactions can be extremely serious and it is very important that you discus any changes with your doctor as soon as you notice them.

Underlying Medical Concern

Tachycardia can indicate that there are underlying medical issues. This is why if you notice a change in your heart rhythm, you should speak with your doctor at the earliest time.

These health issues could any of the following:

  • Anemia
  • An increase in thyroid activity
  • Heart muscle damage from heart attack or a heart failure

Causes of Ventricular Tachycardia

Ventricular tachycardia is usually linked to disorders that obstruct the heart’s electrical conduction system.

Coronary Artery Blood Flow Issues

A lack of coronary artery blood flow can deprive the heart of the necessary oxygen it needs.

Cardiomyopathy

Cardiomyopathy distorts the heart structure, which can cause problems in the way it functions.

Effects of Drugs

This can refer either to side effects of prescribed drugs, or the result of recreational and illicit drugs such as cocaine.

Sarcoidosis

Sarcoidosis is an inflammatory disease that affects the skin or body tissues.

Treatment for Tachycardia

Lifestyle Changes

Patients who suffer from atrial or supraventricular tachycardia may find that treatment might not be needed to deal with the condition. But if you find out that the episodes are recurrent and symptoms are pronounced, the following approaches can be tried.

  • Cutting down or completely removing caffeinated substances like coffee from your diet
  • Reducing tobacco and alcohol intake
  • Sedation
  • Valsalva maneuver — a procedure that involves patients holding their nose while blowing air through the nose
  •  Carotid sinus massage — a procedure that involves gentle pressure being applied on the neck at the exact location where the carotid artery splits into two
  • Pressing gently on closed eyes

Treatment for Sinus Tachycardia

As for sinus tachycardia, the recommended treatment method by most doctors is to treat the cause of the condition as opposed to treating the symptoms of the condition. Slowing down the heart rate could lead to more problems if the rapid heart rate is simply a symptom of another underlying condition (x).

Treatment for Ventricular Tachycardia

Treating ventricular tachycardia can involve many approaches. Medication can be helpful, but radiofrequency ablation or surgery may be required. In extreme cases, immediate electrical defibrillation might be required (x, x).

Living with Tachycardia

For most people, the occurrence of tachycardia can be unpredictable and unsettling. Some patients suffer from intense attacks due to exposure to a trigger like caffeine or over exercising, but in most cases these are unpredictable. Generally, tachycardia is not a life threatening condition, so it is important to prevent the condition in order to live your normal life with ease.

However, if episodes of tachycardia occur frequently, talk to your doctor about procedures like ablation that could be able to cure the abnormal heart rhythm once and for all.

How To Prevent Tachycardia

To prevent tachycardia as much as possible, you can avoid substances and activities that could cause abnormal heart rhythm. Avoiding things like:

  • Alcohol
  • Cigarettes
  • Caffeine
  • Illegal drugs (cocaine, methamphetamine)
  • Herbal supplements

You could be given new medication to help prevent new episodes of tachycardia. It is important to bring your medication to all your appointments. Also, only add supplements to your diet after due consultation with your medical doctor.

And finally, if your symptoms get worse, do not hesitate to discuss with your doctor.

Supplements for Tachycardia

Vitamin C

Possibly the most popular supplement in the world, vitamin C is known for its support of the immune system and general health, especially when combined with other enzymes and solutions. The generally suggested dose for this supplement is 1,000 mg to be taken daily.

Magnesium

Magnesium aids mental performance and exercise. The recommended dose for this supplement is 700 mg to be taken once per day or as directed by your doctor.

Potassium

Potassium has benefits that affect the digestive and muscular function of the body. It also promotes heart health and balances the pH levels of food. It has been used to help regulate the acid and base balance in the body and it could help ease up symptoms of potassium deficiency.

The recommended dose of this supplement is 180 mg to be taken daily or as directed by your doctor.

Hawthorn Berry

Hawthorn berry powder is extracted from the hawthorn, which is an herb that can improve mood and heart health. It has also been known to support cardiovascular function, improve blood pressure and stabilize cholesterol levels. The berries contain flavonoids, antioxidants and anti-inflammatory agents that reduce free-radical damage. The recommended dose of this supplement is 1,200 mg to be taken 1-2 times daily or as directed by your doctor.

Calcium

Calcium promotes strong bones and improves nerve health and heart health. The recommended dose of this supplement is 2,000 mg to be taken 1- 2 times daily or as directed by your doctor.

Corydalis

Corydalis is believed to promote pain relief and overall mental wellness. The recommended dose is 1,000 mg to be taken once daily, or as directed by your doctor.

Valerian

Valerian promotes calmness and could also act as a sleep aid. When combined with St. John’s wort, the time needed to sleep off is reduced. The recommended dose for this supplement is 300-600 mg to be taken daily depending on the desired effect or as directed by your doctor.

Omega 3 Fatty Acids

Omega 3-6-9 softgels contain fish oils, flax seed oil and evening primrose oil to benefit heart health, reduce inflammation and improve mood. The recommended dose is 3 softgels to be taken once or twice daily or as directed by your doctor.

The Bottom Line

Tachycardia refers to the arrhythmical beating of the heart, which can be caused by a wide variety of conditions and situations. Generally, it can cause dizziness, chest sensations and sometimes fainting. It is important to know what is causing your tachycardia because in severe situations it can cause cardiac arrest.

When diagnosed early, the long-term prognosis for tachycardia is often good. Also, tachycardia caused by fever, medication, hyperthyroidism or diet. Tachycardia linked to heart or lung complications should be handled with surgery, medication and other treatment methods prescribed by your doctor.

Lifestyle changes can be made to prevent tachycardia. Additionally supplements such as omega 3 fatty acids and vitamin C can be used to help manage the symptoms and try to prevent tachycardia.

About the author

Ayoola Oni


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