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When to Be Concerned About a Racing Heartbeat

Almost everyone has experienced a racing heart, but how is it possible to differentiate a racing heart that’s harmless and one that is cause for alarm? It’s not always easy. By identifying what triggers a racing heart, how frequently one’s heart rate rises and what conditions occur along with a racing heart, you can learn when to respond with calming techniques and when to contact a doctor.

Table of contents:

  • What is a normal heart rate?
  • How common are fast heartbeats?
  • What causes a heart to race?
  • How can a fast heart rate harm the body?
  • What are the different kinds of abnormal heart rates?
  • What are heart palpitations?
  • What is atrial fibrillation?
  • When should I see a doctor for a fast heart rate?
  • What should I do if my heart begins to race?
  • When should I see a doctor for a fast heart rate?

What is a normal heart rate?

For most adults, a normal, resting heart rate is between 60 and 100 beats per minute. A lower heart rate usually shows that a heart beats very efficiently; elite athletes can have healthy heart rates below 60. If your heart rate is beyond this range, talk to your doctor about what may cause your abnormal heart rate.

To check your heart rate, put your index and third fingers on the side of your neck, or place these two fingers on your wrist. Count the number of heartbeats you have within 15 seconds, then multiply that number by four. The number is your heart rate per minute.

How common are fast heartbeats?

A fast heart rate can be quite common, and – in many situations – completely normal. After a tough workout or amid a stressful situation, it’s natural for a heart to race. Some illnesses may cause your heart rate to rise temporarily as well.

In other instances, however, a racing heart can be a symptom of something more serious. When a heart begins to race without a clear trigger, pay close attention and take it seriously. Following are different conditions that may cause a racing heart, as well as signs that you should see a doctor.

What causes a heart to race?

The causes of a racing heart range from dietary to lifestyle to genetic. Dietary causes include caffeine, alcohol and insufficient water. Smoking and lack of sleep can also make a heart race. Some diseases and conditions, including an abnormal heart structure and heart or lung disease, may also make people more susceptible to a racing heart.

How can a fast heart rate harm the body?

When your heart beats too quickly, it may not be able to pump enough oxygen throughout your body. All of your organs and tissues rely on that oxygen. If you experience a racing heart frequently, it’s crucial to go to a doctor to learn what’s causing it and to make sure your body is getting the oxygen it needs.

What are the different kinds of abnormal heart rates?

An irregular heartbeat – called an arrhythmia – occurs when your heart beats abnormally. This may mean your heart skips a beat (heart palpitations), your heart rate races (tachycardia) or your heart rate becomes too slow (bradycardia). Sometimes, you won’t even feel an arrhythmia at all. An arrhythmia can be harmless, and it can be dangerous. If you’re unsure, please contact a doctor to discuss your symptoms and to learn the cause of your irregular heartbeat.

What are heart palpitations?

A heart palpitation happens when your heart skips a beat. Most often, this doesn’t become serious, and heart palpitations won’t feel like more than a flutter. They can become more serious, however. Heart palpitations could cause your heart to pound or throb, and they may even be confused for a heart attack. If you experience shortness of breath, chest pain or fainting along with heart palpitations, you should consult a doctor right away.

Heart palpitations can be caused by excessive caffeine intake, dietary supplements, recreational drugs or smoking. They are also associated with stress, panic attacks and anxiety. Lifestyle changes, including dietary changes and stress management, may offer relief from heart palpitations.

What is atrial fibrillation?

Atrial fibrillation is another cause of rapid heart rate, although one that is more concerning. It occurs when the heart’s upper chambers beat erratically and lose synch with the lower chambers. This can cause heart palpitations and shortness of breath. While atrial fibrillation isn’t always dangerous, it can increase your risk of stroke or heart failure.

Sometimes, atrial fibrillation resolves on its own. Other times, however, it is persistent – which means it requires treatment or medication to return the heart to its normal rate. In some instances, however, atrial fibrillation becomes permanent, and it will require medications to manage it.

What should I do if my heart begins to race?

If your heart rate begins to race, the first thing you should do is to try to remain calm. Try deep breathing techniques: Take full, slow breaths into your nose, hold your breath for a moment, then slowly breathe out through your nose. You may want to put a hand on your belly to feel the sensation of air entering and leaving your body. Also, it can be calming to splash your face with cold water. See if your heart rate lowers after these techniques.

When should I see a doctor for a fast heart rate?

If your heart races amid a stressful situation or after a tough workout, it may not be serious. In that case, try some calming techniques and breathe deeply to see if the rate returns to its normal rate on its own. But if your heart rate races in ordinary situations and without these triggers – or if it occurs with chest pain, fainting or shortness of breath –  it’s time to visit a doctor. It’s not easy to tell the difference between atrial fibrillation and heart palpitations, so don’t guess: Trust a doctor to diagnose your condition.

AnMed Health offers premiere heart and vascular care, from diagnosis to intervention to management, with locations in Anderson and Clemson. AnMed Health has earned the recognition of a Blue Distinction Center for Cardiac Care by BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina.

If you have concerns about your heart health, call 864.512.4530 to learn how AnMed Health providers can help.

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