Heart is a vital organ in the human body. The heart works by pumping blood throughout the body to supply nutrients and oxygen to cells and maintain blood pressure. Heart rate is one parameter to be looked out for to know if the heart is doing alright. Heart rate is the number of heart beats and for humans it is normal to have a heart rate of 60-100 times per minute for adults. In this DoctorOnCall article, we will be learning more about what happens when the heartbeat is faster than usual and is it curable.
Tachycardia is a term used to indicate a condition where the heart beats faster than the normal range. Having tachycardia does not directly mean someone is having trouble with their heart. It can be part of the normal body response especially after a person exercises, facing a stressful situation causing emotional distress such as anxiety or experiencing pain sensation. This kind of tachycardia usually is temporary and is considered harmless. However, tachycardia should raise a concern if it happens even when a person is at rest.
Tachycardia can be caused by a plethora of causes. It can be either directly caused by the heart or other health conditions not precipitated by heart problems. Most common causes relating to the heart are heart arrhythmia like supraventricular tachycardia, ventricular tachycardia and torsades de pointes, myocarditis, cardiac tamponade and acute coronary syndrome. Other health conditions causing tachycardia but not initially caused by the heart are pulmonary emboli, hypoglycaemia, hypoxia, dehydration, infectious disease, haemorrhage, anaemia, hyperthyroidism and medications. Since there are many causes leading to tachycardia, it can be quite difficult to pinpoint to one exact cause.
People with tachycardia are aware of the rapid heartbeat and often will complain of the feeling of heart palpitations. Other symptoms include shortness of breath, chest pain, dizziness, light-headedness and faint. Healthcare professionals will ask a few questions regarding a person’s lifestyle, past medical history and family history to get help identify the exact causes leading to the tachycardia. A series of laboratory blood tests, imaging studies like x-ray and other heart function tests such as electrocardiogram or echocardiogram, may be requested by doctors to provide a better picture of the heart conditions.
Since tachycardia can cause great discomfort to patients, patients may be wondering if this condition can be cured. Well, most tachycardia can be cured but it all boils down to the causes and how long it will take to treat the condition. If the condition was led by activities such as sport and exercise or a psychological distress, the tachycardia often returned to normal on its own. If it is precipitated by diet or medications, adjustment made can completely treat the tachycardia. Considering tachycardia mostly are caused by the heart problem specifically arrhythmia, treatment includes drug, implanted devices and surgeries. If a tachycardia is precipitated by other medical conditions, caution needs to be exercised as some could be very urgent cases such as in hypoxia, metabolic acidosis, acute myocardial ischemia, sepsis and shock. Immediate medical care needs to be taken for the respective case.
Early treatment typically gives patients a much better outcome, still depending on the causes of the tachycardia. Although generally most tachycardia is considered harmless and does not pose immediate danger, if it is left untreated and becomes persistent, a person is at risk for acquiring tachycardia-mediated cardiomyopathy (TMC). As time goes by, this could lead to heart failure. Other complications are end-organ system failure, cardiac arrest and even death. Hence, it is important for people to recognize which tachycardia is deemed as a normal body response and when it can be a serious medical issue.