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Last Updated: October 03, 2017

Tachycardia

Overview

Tachycardia is an abnormally fast heart rate. In adults, the heart normally beats 60-100 times per minute. A heart rate greater than 100 beats per minute is termed tachycardia.

Tachycardia may occur in children as well as adults. In newborns and infants, tachycardia is defined as a heart rate greater than 150 beats per minute.

There are numerous causes of tachycardia and the condition is very common. Although some forms are harmless, others are potentially lethal.

Basic heart functions

The heart comprises four chambers: two upper chambers (atria) and two lower chambers (ventricles). The heart’s natural pacemaker, the sinoatrial node (SA node), is a tiny collection of cells located in the right atrium that produces each heartbeat.

The SA node generates the electrical signals that control the speed (heart rate) and pattern (rhythm) of the heartbeats. These impulses cause the atria to contract and pump blood into the ventricles. The SA node also sends electrical impulses to another collection of cells, the atrioventricular node (AV node). The AV node conducts the impulses down an electrical pathway to the ventricles, which contract and pump blood out of the heart to the lungs and the rest of the body.

Any type of abnormal heart rate or rhythm is termed an arrhythmia. Tachycardia is a type of arrhythmia where the electrical signals controlling the heart travel across the heart faster than normal, triggering the heart to beat too rapidly.

Types and Causes of Tachycardia

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Healthy heartbeat

Numerous conditions can cause tachycardia. The severity of these problems can range from benign to life threatening. Common causes include:

Types of tachycardia

Symptoms of Tachycardia

Certain non-life-threatening types of tachycardia evoke no apparent symptoms. However, more deleterious forms interfere with the heart’s pumping ability, resulting in a number of serious events.

Common symptoms

Complications of tachycardia

Diagnosis

When a patient’s symptoms and physical examination suggest an arrhythmia, a physician performs tests to diagnose the disorder and assess for the presence of underlying diseases.

Treatment

Treatment depends on the severity of the arrhythmia and the presence of underlying diseases. 

Prevention

Some forms of tachycardia are avoidable by controlling lifestyle factors that lead to heart disease. Recommendations include quitting smoking, increasing rest, and avoiding alcohol and drug abuse.

Sources

Additional Resources

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Carla Hightower, MD

Dr. Hightower is an experienced physician who studied medicine at Northwestern University, where she also earned an MBA. As the founder of Living Health Works, she offers health coaching to individuals, private groups and corporations.