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Symptom: Increased Heart Rate

The normal heart beats between 60-100 times per minute.1-2 If you have an increased heart rate, it can be a sign of certain medical problems including heart failure (HF). Many people occasionally experience heart palpitations, the feeling that your heart is racing or beating extra hard. This could be because of excitement or if you have heart failure because your heart is working harder to compensate for its decreased pumping ability.3-4

Each person has a unique resting and active heart rate. Athletes, for example, tend to have a lower resting heart rate because of all of the conditioning they do to play their respective sports. A change in heart rate or sudden heart palpitations may be a sign of a heart problem.2-3,5

Heart palpitations

Heart palpitations can be uncomfortable and something you report to your doctor.4 It is important to be able to describe when you experience these sensations and what you are doing. Were you sitting down and relaxing or watching TV when you felt these symptoms or were you running, climbing stairs, or carrying heavy packages when you noticed a change in your heart rate?5-6 This information will be important to your healthcare team in making a diagnosis.

Why does the heart beat faster?

Heart rate can vary based on emotional state. A normal heart can experience an increase in heart rate for reasons including but not limited to excitement, fright, anxiety, emotional distress, strenuous activity, and as a side effect of some medications and recreational drugs.2,4 It can also develop for medical reasons including overactive thyroid function, excessive bleeding, or because of damage from a heart attack or heart failure.2 The management of an increased heart rate will depend on the underlying reasons for the changes.

Tachycardia

Tachycardia is the medical term for a fast heartbeat, a heart rate > 100 beats per minute. The heart beats faster to make up for a decrease in cardiac output.6-7 A rapid heartbeat prevents the chambers of the heart from filling completely between contractions.2 It creates a disruption in the normal electrical system that directs the heart’s pumping action.2,4 This means that the chambers of the heart have to work harder to pump more blood into your heart and out into the body. The way your healthcare team interprets your heart failure risk profile and your specific heart rate may be dependent upon age and physical condition. For example, a child’s heart typically beats much faster than an adult heart.7

If left untreated it can result in complications which include heart failure, stroke, heart attack or even death.4 Heart rate can remain elevated in people who have advanced heart failure. There are medications that can effectively slow down the heart and help keep the heart rate under control as well as improving cardiac function.8

Call the doctor

Your healthcare team will instruct you on what they consider an acceptable heart rate range for you. Always follow their advice for when to get medical assistance.

If you have not been previously diagnosed with heart failure or another coronary condition, call your doctor if you have any unusual change in heart rate to more than 120 beats per minute when you are at rest. If your heart rate increases to more than 120 -150 beats per minute, and if you experience shortness of breath or dizziness call 911 or your local emergency number and seek immediate medical attention.1

Written by: Linda Minton | Last reviewed: November 2019
  1. Heart Failure: When to Call Your Doctor or Nurse About Symptoms. Cleveland Clinic. Available at: https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/treatments/17640-heart-failure-when-to-call-your-doctor-or-nurse-about-symptoms. Accessed 9/14/19.
  2. Tachycardia: Fast Heart Rate. American Heart Association. Available at: https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/arrhythmia/about-arrhythmia/tachycardia--fast-heart-rate. Accessed 9/14/19.
  3. Warning Signs of Heart Failure. American Heart Association. Available at: https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/heart-failure/warning-signs-of-heart-failure. Accessed 9/13/19.
  4. Tachycardia. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/tachycardia/symptoms-causes/syc-2035512. Accessed 9/13/19.
  5. 5 overlooked symptoms that may signal heart trouble. Harvard Health. Available at: https://www.health.harvard.edu/heart-health/5-overlooked-symptoms-that-may-signal-heart-trouble. Accessed 9/14/19.
  6. Rapid Heart Rate. Heart Failure Matters. Available at: https://www.heartfailurematters.org/en_GB/Understanding-heart-failure/Rapid-heart-rate. Accessed 9/14/19.
  7. Heart Failure: Compensation by the Heart and Body. Michigan Medicine. Available at: https://www.uofmhealth.org/health-library/aa86963. Accessed 9/14/19.
  8. Hori M, Okamoto H. Heart rate as a target of treatment of chronic heart failure. Journal of Cardiology. 2012;60(2):86-90. doi:10.1016/j.jjcc.2012.06.013.