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What is tachycardia? — "Tachycardia" is the medical term for a heartbeat that is faster than normal. Sometimes, a fast heartbeat is a normal response to exercising or feeling very worried. But other times, a fast heartbeat is a sign of another problem.
What causes tachycardia? — Exercising or feeling worried, stressed, or afraid can all cause tachycardia.
Other things that can cause tachycardia include:
Having too many drinks with caffeine, such as coffee, tea, or soda
Smoking or using chewing tobacco
Taking certain illegal drugs, such as cocaine
Having a fever
Problems with your heart's electrical system can also cause tachycardia. Some people are born with these problems. Other people get them because of high blood pressure, a heart attack, or other heart problems.
What are the symptoms of tachycardia? — Most people with tachycardia have no symptoms. But they might notice that their heart is beating fast, beating hard, or seems to skip a beat. These kinds of heartbeat changes are called "palpitations."
Sometimes, a fast heartbeat makes it harder for your heart to pump blood to your body. This can cause symptoms such as:
Trouble breathing
Chest pain
Is there a test for tachycardia? — Yes. Your doctor or nurse will probably do a test called an electrocardiogram. This test, also known as an "ECG," measures the electrical activity in your heart (figure 1).
You might also need other tests to see if another condition is causing your fast heartbeat.
Should I see a doctor or nurse? — If you have trouble breathing or have chest pain that lasts for more than a few minutes, call for an ambulance (in the US and Canada, dial 9-1-1).
If you do not have these problems, but you often feel your heart beating fast or irregularly, talk to your doctor or nurse.
How is tachycardia treated? — The treatment depends on the cause of the tachycardia. When your heartbeat is very fast, your doctor might suggest ways to slow it down. He or she might have you cough, or bear down as if you're having a bowel movement. He or she might also put an ice pack on your face. Doing these things can affect the nerve that helps control your heartbeat.
Other treatments can include:
Medicines to control the speed or rhythm of your heartbeat
A treatment called "cardioversion" that involves applying a mild electrical current to the heart to fix its rhythm
A device called an "implantable cardioverter defibrillator" ("ICD" for short) that the doctor can put in your body. The ICD can help make your heart rhythm normal using mild electrical currents.
Treatments called "ablation." Ablation treatments use heat (called "radiofrequency ablation") or cold (called "cryoablation") to destroy the small part of the heart that is sending the abnormal electrical signals.
Surgery to create scar tissue in the heart. This will block the flow of the electrical signals that make your heart beat abnormal.
Can tachycardia be prevented? — If drinking too much caffeine or smoking caused your tachycardia, stopping those habits can prevent the problem.
Heart disease can increase your chance of having tachycardia. Doing things that keep your heart healthy can help. This includes:
Eating lots of fruits and vegetables and low-fat dairy products, but not a lot of meat or fatty foods.
Walking or doing a physical activity on most days of the week.
Losing weight, if you are overweight.
All topics are updated as new evidence becomes available and our peer review process is complete.
This topic retrieved from UpToDate on: Mar 30, 2020.
Topic 16998 Version 12.0
Release: 28.2.2 - C28.105
© 2020 UpToDate, Inc. and/or its affiliates. All rights reserved.

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