Tachycardia is a faster than normal heart rate. A healthy adult heart normally beats 60 to 100 times a minute when a person is at rest. If you have tachycardia (tak-ih-KAHR-de-uh), the rate in the upper chambers or lower chambers of the heart, or both, are increased significantly.
Heart rate is controlled by electrical signals sent across heart tissues. Tachycardia occurs when an abnormality in the heart produces rapid electrical signals.
In some cases, tachycardias may cause no symptoms or complications. However, tachycardias can seriously disrupt normal heart function, increase the risk of stroke, or cause sudden cardiac arrest or death.
Treatments may help control a rapid heartbeat or manage diseases contributing to tachycardia.
When your heart's rate is too rapid, it may not effectively pump blood to the rest of your body, depriving your organs and tissues of oxygen. This can cause these tachycardia symptoms:
Some people with tachycardia have no symptoms, and the condition is only discovered during a physical examination or with a heart-monitoring test called an electrocardiogram.
When to see a doctor
If you faint, have difficulty breathing or have chest pain lasting more than a few minutes, get emergency care, or call 911 or your local emergency number. Seek emergency care for anyone experiencing these symptoms.
Tachycardia is caused by something that disrupts the normal electrical impulses that control the rhythm of your heart's pumping action. Many things can cause or contribute to problems with the heart's electrical system. These factors include:
In some cases, the exact cause of tachycardia can't be determined.
Electrical circuitry of the heart
From the sinus node, electrical impulses travel across the atria, causing the atria muscles to contract and pump blood into the ventricles. The electrical impulses then arrive at a cluster of cells called the atrioventricular node (AV node) — usually the only pathway for signals to travel from the atria to the ventricles.
The AV node slows down the electrical signal before sending it to the ventricles. This slight delay allows the ventricles to fill with blood. When electrical impulses reach the muscles of the ventricles, they contract, causing them to pump blood either to the lungs or to the rest of the body.
Types of tachycardias
A normal heartbeat begins when a tiny cluster of cells called the sinus node sends an electrical signal (1). The signal then travels through the atria and passes through another group of cells called ...
Any condition that puts a strain on the heart or damages heart tissue can increase your risk of tachycardia. Lifestyle changes or medical treatment may decrease the risk associated with the following factors:
Other risk factors
Complications of tachycardias vary in severity depending on such factors as the type of tachycardia, the rate and duration of a rapid heart rate, and the existence of other heart conditions. Possible complications include:
Preparing for your appointment
Whether you first see your family doctor or get emergency care, you'll likely be referred to a heart specialist (cardiologist) for one or more appointments for a complete diagnostic assessment.
If possible, bring along a family member or friend who can give some moral support and help you keep track of new information. Because there may be a lot of ground to cover, it will be helpful to prepare as much as possible.
What you can do
List your questions from most important to least important in case time runs out. Basic questions to ask your doctor include:
In addition to the questions that you've prepared to ask your doctor, don't hesitate to ask additional questions that may occur to you during your appointment.
What to expect from your doctor
Tests and diagnosis
Your doctor can make a diagnosis of a specific tachycardia based on your answers to questions about symptoms, a physical exam and heart tests. Common tests include the following.
Your doctor may also ask you to use portable ECG devices at home to provide more information about your heart rate. These devices include:
Tilt table test
Treatments and drugs
The treatment goals for tachycardias are to slow a fast heart rate when it occurs, prevent future episodes and minimize complications.
Stopping a fast heart rate
Preventing episodes of a fast heart rate
Preventing blood clots
Treating an underlying disease
Coping and support
If you have a plan in place to deal with an episode of a fast heartbeat, you may feel calmer and more in control when one occurs. Talk to your doctor about:
The most effective way to prevent tachycardias is to reduce your risk of developing heart disease. If you already have heart disease, monitor it and follow your treatment plan to lower your tachycardia risk.
Prevent heart disease
Monitor and treat existing heart disease
Last Updated: 2011-05-25
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