Symptom: Increased Heart Rate

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: December 2023

The warning signs of heart failure (HF) are different for everyone. One possible sign of HF is a rapid heartbeat at rest. A resting heart rate over 100 beats per minute is considered high. The medical term for this is tachycardia.1,2

An increased heart rate is not always a concern. It is normal during exercise and stress. But it may also be a sign that your heart cannot pump blood well. It may be beating faster to try to keep up with the body’s oxygen needs. If left untreated, a high heart rate can lead to serious health problems. Treatment involves certain lifestyle changes, medicines, and procedures.1,3

What is an increased heart rate?

An increased heart rate is a type of arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat). It refers to a resting heart rate over 100 beats per minute. For example, sinus tachycardia is an increased heart rate without any changes to heart rhythm. Other types are defined by the cause and affected part of the heart.1,4

Tachycardia often feels like a pounding or racing sensation in your chest. You may describe it as a fluttering or palpitation. Or you may feel that your heartbeat is irregular. Other symptoms of an increased heart rate include:1,4

  • Chest pain
  • Fainting
  • Lightheadedness
  • Shortness of breath

Talk to your doctor if you notice any of these symptoms. Describe what they feel like and what you were doing when you noticed them. This can help your doctor determine the cause.1

Some people with an increased heart rate experience little or no symptoms. A doctor may discover the problem during a physical exam or heart test. An increased resting heart rate may lead to more serious complications. The risk depends on the exact features of your heart rate. Possible complications include:1

  • Stroke or heart attack
  • Frequent fainting
  • Sudden death

What causes an increased heart rate?

An increased heart rate is not always a concern. Exercise and high emotions often increase your heart rate. But it may be a sign of underlying heart or other problems. An increase in your resting heart rate may be a sign of HF.1-3

As HF develops, your heart loses strength and struggles to pump blood fast enough. Your heart and other organs adapt to compensate for this. For example, your:2,3

  • Heart may grow in size to try to increase its pumping power
  • Heart rate may speed up to try to circulate more blood
  • Blood vessels may narrow to keep blood pressure high enough
  • Blood flow may be diverted to the most important organs, such as the brain

At first, these changes help the heart keep up with the oxygen needs of the body. But in the long run, these changes may lead to serious cases of HF. For example, prolonged tachycardia can damage your heart muscle. It can also interfere with the normal electrical signals that cause your heart to beat. This can lead to serious heart rhythm problems.3

Featured Forum

View all responses caret icon

How is tachycardia prevented and treated?

The best way to prevent tachycardia is to maintain a healthy heart. This includes eating a healthy diet and exercising regularly. Reduce or avoid caffeine, alcohol, smoking, and other recreational drugs. If you have already been diagnosed with HF, follow your treatment plan.1,4

Getting your heart rate more regular may reduce complications and help your heart pump blood better again. Treatment depends on the underlying cause. Treating the underlying cause may reduce or prevent episodes of tachycardia. Some treatments may slow a fast heart rate or prevent future episodes. These include:1,3-8

  • Vagal maneuvers – physical movements to make your vagus nerve slow down your heart
  • Medicines – antiarrhythmics, beta-blockers, calcium channel blockers, or digoxin
  • Cardioversion – sending electric shocks to the heart to restore a normal heartbeat
  • Catheter ablation – using heat or cold energy on the tip of a catheter to block irregular electrical signals
  • Pacemaker – a device implanted under the skin to maintain normal heart rhythms
  • Maze procedure – making tiny incisions in the heart to block stray electrical signals
  • Surgery – may be needed to eliminate extra electrical pathways

The right treatment option depends on many factors, including your type of tachycardia. Your doctor may start with vagal maneuvers and medicines. If those do not work, your doctor may suggest a more invasive procedure.1,6

By providing your email address, you are agreeing to our privacy policy.