Is tachycardia dangerous?

We’ve all experienced a racing heart at some point, but when is it a serious health problem? Learn when you should see a doctor.

  • Tachycardia is the point when your heart reaches 100 beats per minute or more.
  • Most forms of tachycardia don’t need treatment, but there are some types that can cause serious health problems if left untreated.
  • Tachycardia is usually treated with medicine or a procedure called catheter ablation.

[3 MIN READ]

You’re sitting at your desk working when suddenly you feel your heart start to race. It lasts just a minute and subsides quickly. The strange thing is, you haven’t had any caffeine and you certainly weren’t exercising. Should you be worried?

If you’ve ever had this happen or something similar, you may have experienced tachycardia. It’s a common condition that can affect anyone, from children to adults. Although many tachycardia experiences are not dangerous, it’s still important to pay attention to your symptoms and know when to see a doctor. Read on to learn more about tachycardia and when it may lead to more serious health problems.

What is tachycardia?

Tachycardia is the point when your heart reaches 100 beats per minute or more. There are a few different types of tachycardia, including:

  • Sinus tachycardia – This is a normal tachycardia that happens to most people when they’re exercising or feeling stressed, anxious or excited.
  • Supraventricular tachycardia (atrial tachycardia) – This is an abnormal type of tachycardia, also called an arrythmia. It’s caused by a short circuit of electrical signals in the heart’s upper chambers (atria). Although it’s bothersome to experience, atrial tachycardia is typically safe.
  • Ventricular tachycardia – This is another type of abnormal heart rhythm that happens when there’s a short circuit of electrical signals in the heart’s lower chambers (ventricles). This type of tachycardia can be dangerous if left untreated.

Understanding which type you may have can determine the best course of treatment.

How will I know if my tachycardia is dangerous?

If you’re experiencing regular tachycardia that isn’t caused by caffeine, exercise or emotions, your doctor can give you a thorough physical exam and run tests to determine whether your tachycardia is dangerous.

A doctor’s assessment includes:

  • Perform a physical exam. The exam will include a conversation about your personal and family medical history.
  • Assess your overall health and symptoms. Your doctor will look for symptoms of heart disease or pumping problems in the heart, which can be a sign of a dangerous tachycardia. Your doctor will ask when you feel your heart racing and if you experience any other symptoms, such as lightheadedness, fatigue or shortness of breath.
  • Document the heart’s rhythm. Your doctor will use a heart rhythm monitor (electrocardiogram or EKG) to track your heart rate and determine what is happening during a tachycardia episode. You may also need to wear a portable heart monitor (Holter monitor) at home to track your heart rhythm over a few days.

How is tachycardia treated?

If your doctor determines that your tachycardia isn’t dangerous, you may not need any treatment at all. However, if the racing heart is bothersome or occurs often, some treatments can help reduce your symptoms.

Treatments for tachycardia can include medicines or catheter ablation, which is a procedure that destroys the tissue causing the short-circuit in your heart. Catheter ablation can usually correct the problem permanently without the need for medicines.

For more serious tachycardia conditions, like ventricular tachycardia, doctors may use a device implanted under the skin that can help control the heart’s rhythm.

Finding reassurance

If you experience a fast or irregular heartbeat, getting a professional opinion can help ease some of your anxiety. Even after an initial evaluation, it’s okay to seek a second opinion about your symptoms. Having a few experts weigh in can help you get to the bottom of your tachycardia and provide reassurance.

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Find a doctor

You’ll get expert heart care from Providence’s award-winning heart and vascular specialists. Find a Providence heart specialist using our provider directory. Or, you can search for a primary care doctor in your area.

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Everyone experiences a little tachycardia from time to time, but is it a dangerous condition? Learn when you should seek advice from a doctor and share your experience @psjh. #hearthealth

Regional resources

California: Providence Heart & Vascular Care Southern California

Montana: Providence Heart & Vascular Care Montana | Arrhythmia Care

Oregon: Providence Heart & Vascular Institute Oregon | Tachycardia Q&A

Texas: Providence Covenant Health Medical Group

Washington: Washington Heart & Vascular | Cardiology Providers

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This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.

About the Author

The Providence Heart & Vascular Team is committed to bringing you many years of expertise and experience to help you understand how to prevent, treat and recover from cardiovascular diseases and conditions. From tips to eating better to exercise and everything in between, our clinical experts know how to help you help your heart.

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