Tachycardia | Fast Heart Rate

Updated:Dec 5,2017

View an animation of tachycardia (opens in new window)

Tachycardia = Too fast

A heart rate of more than 100 beats per minute (BPM) in adults is called tachycardia. What's too fast for you may depend on your age and physical condition.

View an animation of tachycardia.

There are three types of tachycardias:

Atrial or Supraventricular Tachycardia (SVT)

Atrial or Supraventricular tachycardia (SVT) is a fast heart rate that starts in the upper chambers of the heart.

Some forms are called paroxysmal atrial tachycardia (PAT) or paroxysmal supraventricular tachycardia (PSVT).

How it happens
Electrical signals in the heart's upper chambers fire abnormally, which interferes with electrical signals coming from the sinoatrial (SA) node --- the heart's natural pacemaker. A series of early beats in the atria speeds up the heart rate. The rapid heartbeat does not allow enough time for the heart to fill before it contracts so blood flow to the rest of the body is compromised.

Who is likely to have Atrial or SVT?

  • SVT is the most common type of arrhythmia in children
  • More common in women, but may occur in either sex
  • Anxious young people
  • People who are physically fatigued
  • People who drink large amounts of coffee (or caffeinated substances)
  • People who drink alcohol heavily
  • People who smoke heavily
Atrial tachycardia occurs less commonly with: Symptoms and Complications of Atrial or SVT
Some people have no symptoms; others may feel:
  • Fainting (syncope)
  • Lightheadedness or dizziness
  • Rapid heartbeat or "palpitations" or fluttering feeling in chest or bunding pulse
  • Angina (chest pain), pressure or tightness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fatigue/tiredness
In extreme cases, atrial or SVT may cause: Treatment for Atrial or SVT
Many people don't need medical therapy. Treatment is considered if episodes are prolonged or occur often. Your doctor may recommend or try:
  • Carotid sinus massage: gentle pressure on the neck, where the carotid artery splits into two branches. Must be performed by a healthcare professional to minimize risk of stroke, heart or lung injury from blood clots.
  • Pressing gently on the eyeballs with eyes closed. But this maneuver should be guided by your doctor.
  • Valsalva maneuver: holding your nostrils closed while blowing air through your nose.
  • Dive reflex: the body's response to sudden immersion in water, especially cold water.
  • Sedation.
  • Cutting down on coffee or other caffeinated substances.
  • Cutting down on alcohol.
  • Quitting tobacco use.
  • Getting more rest.
  • In patients with Wolfe-Parkinson-White Syndrome, medications or ablation may be needed to control PSVT.
 

Atrial or Supraventricular tachycardia (SVT) is a fast heart rate that starts in the upper chambers of the heart.

Some forms are called paroxysmal atrial tachycardia (PAT) or paroxysmal supraventricular tachycardia (PSVT).

How it happens
Electrical signals in the heart's upper chambers fire abnormally, which interferes with electrical signals coming from the sinoatrial (SA) node --- the heart's natural pacemaker. A series of early beats in the atria speeds up the heart rate. The rapid heartbeat does not allow enough time for the heart to fill before it contracts so blood flow to the rest of the body is compromised.

Who is likely to have Atrial or SVT?

  • SVT is the most common type of arrhythmia in children
  • More common in women, but may occur in either sex
  • Anxious young people
  • People who are physically fatigued
  • People who drink large amounts of coffee (or caffeinated substances)
  • People who drink alcohol heavily
  • People who smoke heavily
Atrial tachycardia occurs less commonly with: Symptoms and Complications of Atrial or SVT
Some people have no symptoms; others may feel:
  • Fainting (syncope)
  • Lightheadedness or dizziness
  • Rapid heartbeat or "palpitations" or fluttering feeling in chest or bunding pulse
  • Angina (chest pain), pressure or tightness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fatigue/tiredness
In extreme cases, atrial or SVT may cause: Treatment for Atrial or SVT
Many people don't need medical therapy. Treatment is considered if episodes are prolonged or occur often. Your doctor may recommend or try:
  • Carotid sinus massage: gentle pressure on the neck, where the carotid artery splits into two branches. Must be performed by a healthcare professional to minimize risk of stroke, heart or lung injury from blood clots.
  • Pressing gently on the eyeballs with eyes closed. But this maneuver should be guided by your doctor.
  • Valsalva maneuver: holding your nostrils closed while blowing air through your nose.
  • Dive reflex: the body's response to sudden immersion in water, especially cold water.
  • Sedation.
  • Cutting down on coffee or other caffeinated substances.
  • Cutting down on alcohol.
  • Quitting tobacco use.
  • Getting more rest.
  • In patients with Wolfe-Parkinson-White Syndrome, medications or ablation may be needed to control PSVT.
 

Sinus tachycardia = fast but steady
Sinus tachycardia is a normal increase in the heart rate.

How it happens
The sinoatrial (SA) node --- the heart's natural pacemaker - sends out electrical signals faster than usual. The heart rate is fast, but the heart beats properly.

Causes of sinus tachycardia
A rapid heartbeat may be your body's response to common conditions such as:

  • Fever
  • Anxiety
  • Some medicinal and street drugs
  • Severe emotional distress
  • Fright
  • Strenuous exercise
Other causes but less commonly, it may indicate:
  • Anemia (low blood count)
  • Increased thyroid activity
  • Heart muscle damage from heart attack or heart failure
  • Hemorrhage (severe bleeding)
Symptoms of sinus tachycardia
Your heart beats faster than usual.

Treatments for sinus tachycardia
Your doctor should consider and treat the cause of sinus tachycardia rather than the condition itself. If your rapid heartbeat is a symptom of a more serious or longer term problem, simply slowing the heart rate could cause more harm and leave the underlying condition untreated.

Ventricular tachycardia is a fast heart rate that starts in the heart's lower chambers (ventricles). It can be a life-threatening heart rhythm and requires rapid diagnosis and treatment.

How it happens
Electrical signals in the ventricles fire abnormally, which interferes with electrical signals coming from the sinoatrial (SA) node --- the heart's natural pacemaker. The rapid heartbeat does not allow enough time for the heart to fill before it contracts so blood does not get pumped throughout the body.

Causes of Ventricular Tachycardia
Usually associated with disorders of that heart which interfere with the normal conduction system of the heart. These disorders may include:   

  • Lack of oxygen to areas of the heart due to lack of coronary artery blood flow
  • Cardiomyopathy in which the structure of the heart becomes distorted
  • Medications
  • Illicit drugs such as cocaine
  • Sarcoidosis (an inflammatory disease affecting skin or other body tissues)
Symptoms of Ventricular Tachycardia
  • Dizziness
  • Palpitations
  • Shortness of breath
  • Some people might have nausea
  • Lightheadedness
  • Unconsciousness
  • Cardiac arrest
Consequences of Ventricular Tachycardia
This type of arrhythmia may be either well-tolerated or may be life-threatening. The seriousness depends largely on whether other cardiac dysfunction is present, and on the rate of VT.

Treatment of Ventricular Tachycardia
The type and length of treatment depends on what's causing the problem. If required, treatment may include:
  • May require immediate electrical defibrillation
  • Medication (prescribed for home use and/or administered by healthcare professionals)
  • Radiofrequency ablation
  • Surgery




This content was last reviewed September 2016.


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