What Is Tachycardia?
Last updated: March 2022
Tachycardia is a type of heart rhythm. It means that your heart is beating faster than normal. So what does this really mean? What causes it? How might this contribute to heart failure? Here’s all you need to know.1
Basic heart anatomy
Your heart has four chambers: the right atrium, right ventricle, left atrium, and left ventricle. Located in the right atrium is the sinoatrial node (SA node), sometimes referred to as the sinus node. This is your natural pacemaker. It generates an electrical current that travels through your heart by causing the right and left atria to contract. The current is sent to the ventricles causing them to contract.1
When your sinus node is your pacemaker, the heart rhythm is called sinus. For instance, a normal rhythm is called normal sinus rhythm (or NSR). A normal heart rate for an adult is 60 to 100 beats per minute (BPM).2-3
What is tachycardia?
Tachy is a fancy term for “fast.” So, tachycardia means your heart is beating faster than normal. BPM or higher is considered tachycardia. There are different types of tachycardia. These will be described below.3
Most common form
Sinus tachycardia is the most common form. Your heart is beating fast but your sinus node is the pacemaker. The heart rate here is generally 100-130 BPM. It happens when your heart receives signals to trigger a heartbeat faster than normal. This rhythm is usually caused by factors outside your heart, such as exercise, fever, anxiety, pain, or stress.4
This type of tachycardia is often short-term and generally goes away on its own. So, if sinus tachycardia persists, a physician will try to figure out the underlying cause and treat that.4
Tachycardia at rates of 100-150 BPM generally usually causes no symptoms. Although when the heart rate exceeds 150 BPM, the ventricles may not have enough time to completely fill with blood.4
When this happens you may experience the following symptoms:3
- Shortness of breath
- Pulse that is bounding
- Chest pressure or tightness
What are other types of tachycardia?
The SA node is the main pacemaker. However, different areas of the heart muscle can become excited or irritable and this area can take over as the main pacemaker. When this happens, it suppresses the SA node which may cause heart rates that exceed 150 BPM.2
This is where an area above the ventricles becomes irritated. It is generally referred to as paroxysmal because it usually starts and stops abruptly or on its own. It causes heart rates from 150 to 250 BPM. When it lasts longer than a few minutes, it may require medical intervention to stop it, usually either medication or surgery.5
Ventricular tachycardia (V-tach)
This is where an area of your ventricles becomes irritated and your heart rate is between 250 and 350. I have seen a few patients in this arrhythmia with no symptoms. In these instances, the V-tach is generally a slower rate, perhaps as low as 130.1-2
V-tach is often considered a life-threatening arrhythmia because the heart is beating way too fast to fill completely. So, this makes it unable to adequately oxygenate your body. As less oxygen gets to your brain, it can cause symptoms such as loss of consciousness.1-2
It may also cause heart failure and pulmonary edema (fluid to back up into your lungs). It is most likely caused by some underlying heart condition, such as a heart attack. Potential treatments may include medicine or electrical defibrillation.1-2
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