Tachycardia (Fast Heartbeat) | Abbott Cardiovascular
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WHAT IS TACHYCARDIA, OR FAST HEARTBEAT?

Tachycardia is a heartbeat above 100 beats per minute (BPM). In most healthy people, the heart’s fluid-pumping action result in a normal heart rate of 60 to 100 beats per minute (BPM). Sometimes a rate above 100 beats is normal. For example, when you exercise, your body needs more oxygen than when you are at rest. Your heart meets this demand by increasing the rate at which it pumps oxygen-rich blood to the body.

Other times, a heartbeat greater than 100 beats a minute is abnormal and is the result of a problem with the heart or the irregular electrical signals in the heart. If you have a fast heart rate, it could be caused by a type of tachycardia.

There are several types of tachycardia. They are classified by the part of the heart in which they originate.

Tachycardias originating in the atria (the upper chambers of the heart) are:

  • Atrial flutter
  • Atrial fibrillation
  • Supraventricular tachycardia

Tachycardias originating in the ventricles (the lower chambers of the heart) are:

  • Ventricular tachycardia
  • Ventricular fibrillation

Learn about common treatments for tachycardias.

ATRIAL FLUTTER

FAST HEARTBEAT ARRHYTHMIAS: ATRIAL FLUTTER

Atrial flutter starts in the upper chambers of the heart. During atrial flutter, the heart beats anywhere from 240 to 320 times per minute. In atrial flutter, even though the upper chambers beat rapidly, only one-half to one-third of the electrical impulses reach the heart’s lower chambers. This is because the AV node, a cluster of cells located in the center of the heart between the upper and lower chambers, slows down the electrical signal before it enters the lower chambers. This keeps the arrhythmia from becoming life-threatening. Atrial flutter can occur constantly or in episodes where the attacks last hours or days and are followed by a period of normal heart rhythm.

Common Atrial Flutter Symptoms Include:
  • Palpitations or racing heartbeat
  • Decreased blood pressure
  • Weakness
  • Light-headedness
  • Confusion
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
Common Atrial Flutter Causes Include:
  • Heart attack
  • Abnormal heart valves
  • Congenital heart defects
  • Previous heart surgery
  • High blood pressure
  • An overactive thyroid and metabolic imbalance
  • Medications
  • Smoking, drug and alcohol abuse
  • Excess caffeine
  • Sick sinus syndrome 
  • Chronic lung disease
  • Viral infections 
  • Stress due to pneumonia, surgery and other illnesses
  • Sleep apnea

ATRIAL FIBRILLATION OR AF

Atrial fibrillation, also called AF, is a very fast, irregular heartbeat that occurs when the upper chambers of the heart beat so fast that they quiver or twitch in a disorganized way instead of fully contracting. Normal heart rhythm is between 60 and 100 beats per minute (BPM), but during AF, the upper chambers beat between 350 and 600 BPM. Due to the erratic heartbeat in the upper chambers, the rhythm of the lower chambers can also be disrupted.

Atrial fibrillation is the most common type of heart arrhythmia and mainly affects older people. In fact, it affects 1 in every 10 persons aged 80 years or older. It is not life-threatening in itself, but is a progressive condition. Left untreated, AF can worsen and the increase in side effects may lead to stroke or heart failure.

People who live healthy lifestyles and have no other medical problems can develop atrial fibrillation. It is vital to see a doctor if you have AF symptoms or are at risk for developing them. You may be more at risk for developing AF symptoms if you are:

  • Male; more men than women develop AF
  • 60 years or older
  • From a family with a history of AF

Atrial fibrillation can have symptoms that come and go and then stop. In chronic cases, the irregular heartbeat is continuous. AF can be managed with several different treatments, but most people take medication to help control it.

Common AF Symptoms Include:
  • Racing, pounding heart
  • Erratic pulse 
  • Feeling worn out, fatigued
  • Shortness of breath
  • Trouble with normal exercise and activities
  • Chest pain or pressure 
  • Lightheadedness, dizziness and fainting
Causes for Developing AF Include:
  • Existing heart disease, heart failure and congenital defects
  • Diabetes, obesity and metabolic syndrome
  • Hyperthyroidism
  • Chronic lung disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Excessive alcohol and stimulant use
  • Smoking and caffeine consumption
  • Stress or illness
  • Sleep apnea
  • Prior open-heart surgery
  • Use of certain medications

SUPRAVENTRICULAR TACHYCARDIA OR SVT

In supraventricular tachycardia, also called SVT, the heart rate accelerates due to an abnormal electrical impulse that circles repeatedly in the atria, or upper chambers of the heart. SVT often occurs in episodes of rapid heartbeats, 240 per minute or faster, with stretches of normal rhythm in between. It begins and ends suddenly. The heart pounding caused by SVT can trigger feelings of anxiety.

This type of tachycardia is the most common kind found in children and adolescents. For most children, this is not serious and treatment is considered only if the abnormal heart rate is frequent or prolonged. SVT can occur in older people as well. Most people with SVT enjoy normal, unrestricted activities.

Common SVT Symptoms Include:
  • Heart palpitations
  • Fatigue and light-headedness
  • Fainting
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
Possible Causes of SVT Include:
  • Coronary artery disease 
  • Heart attack 
  • Previous heart surgery 
  • Diabetes 
  • High cholesterol 
  • High blood pressure 
  • Smoking, drug and alcohol abuse 
  • Obesity 
  • Sedentary lifestyle 
  • Stress
  • Certain medications (over-the-counter and prescriptions, including decongestants, diet pills and herbal supplements)
  • Family history of heart disease
  • Congenital heart disorders
  • Advancing age

VENTRICULAR TACHYCARDIA OR VT

UNDERSTANDING ARRHYTHMIAS: VENTRICULAR TACHYCARDIA

Ventricular tachycardia, also called VT, occurs when abnormal electrical impulses start in the lower chambers of the heart (the ventricles) causing the heart to beat too quickly. With this disorder, the heart cannot fill properly with blood between beats, and so cannot pump enough blood to meet the body’s needs.

VT is considered more serious than a supraventricular tachycardia (SVT). Sometimes, VT is harmless. However, episodes may put you at risk for more serious ventricular arrhythmias.

If you have had previous heart attacks or have a scar tissue in your heart, ventricular fibrillation can be life threatening. You may be more at risk for developing VT symptoms if you are:

  • Male; more men than women develop VT
  • Advancing in age
  • From a family with a history of heart disease

If you have any of the symptoms listed below, seek emergency medical treatment. A prolonged attack can quickly develop into a life-threatening ventricular fibrillation, which demands immediate treatment with either an external defibrillator or an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD).

Symptoms of VT Include:
  • Palpitations, rapid thumping or a pounding sensation in your chest
  • Fatigue and lightheadedness
  • Fainting
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
Possible Causes of VT Include:
  • Coronary artery disease 
  • Heart attack 
  • Diabetes 
  • High cholesterol 
  • High blood pressure 
  • Smoking, drug and alcohol abuse 
  • High fat diet 
  • Sedentary lifestyle 
  • Stress
  • Certain medications (over-the-counter and prescriptions, including decongestants and diet and herbal supplements)
  • Heart surgery
  • Congenital heart disorders (heart problems present at birth, usually involving the heart's chambers or valves)

VENTRICULAR FIBRILLATION OR VF

UNDERSTANDING ARRHYTHMIAS: VENTRICULAR FIBRILLATION

Ventricular fibrillation (VF) occurs when rapid, chaotic electrical impulses cause the lower chambers of the heart (the ventricles) to quiver and stop pumping blood. It can occur spontaneously (generally caused by heart disease) or when ventricular tachycardia (VT) has persisted too long.

VF is the most serious cardiac rhythm disturbance and most often leads to sudden cardiac arrest. Immediate medical intervention is necessary. You may be more at risk for developing VF symptoms if you are:

  • Advancing in age
  • From a family with a history of heart disease
Symptoms of VF Include:
  • Sudden loss of consciousness
Possible Causes of VF Include:
  • Heart attack
  • Heart failure
  • Previous heart surgery
  • Coronary artery disease
  • Diabetes
  • High cholesterol and high blood pressure
  • Smoking, drug and alcohol abuse
  • Obesity
  • Sedentary lifestyle and stress
  • Certain medications (over-the-counter and prescriptions, including decongestants, diet pills and herbal supplements)
  • Congenital heart disorders (heart problems present at birth, usually involving the heart's chambers or valves)

 

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