Tachycardia

Overview

What is tachycardia?

When you have tachycardia, your heart beats faster than normal for a few seconds to a few hours. Normally, your heart rate is 60 to 100 beats per minute when you’re not active. When your heart beats more than 100 times a minute at rest, that’s tachycardia.

Because your heart beats too often, it doesn’t have the time it needs to fill with blood between beats. This can be dangerous if your heart can’t supply all of your cells with the blood and oxygen they need.

Your heart normally responds to electrical signals from your heart’s sinoatrial (SA) node. These signals control how often your heart beats. When you’ve had a scare or are very emotional or anxious, or are exercising, your heart may send signals more frequently for a short time. This is called sinus tachycardia and goes away when you calm down or rest.

Other types of tachycardia can come back regularly and can be more serious.

Types of supraventricular tachycardia (SVT)

These begin in the atria, or upper chambers of your heart, when you have an issue with electrical signals there.

Types of ventricular tachycardia

These begin in your ventricles, your heart’s lower chambers, when you have an electrical signal issue in that area.

Who does tachycardia affect?

Atrial or supraventricular tachycardia can affect:

  • Women and people assigned female at birth more than men and people assigned male at birth.
  • Children, especially those who have anxiety.
  • Anyone who’s very tired or drinks a lot of alcohol or caffeine.
  • People who smoke a lot.

Ventricular tachycardia or fibrillation can affect:

  • People who’ve had a heart attack, cardiomyopathy (heart muscle issue), myocarditis (inflamed heart muscle), heart failure or heart disease.
  • People who smoke or have high blood pressure or diabetes.
How common is tachycardia?

About 2 million Americans have atrial fibrillation and 90,000 others per year get a supraventricular tachycardia diagnosis. Each year, an estimated 184,000 to 450,000 Americans die from ventricular arrhythmias that cause sudden cardiac death.

Symptoms and Causes

What are the symptoms?

Some people don’t have tachycardia symptoms, while others may have mild to severe symptoms. Tachycardia symptoms may include:

  • Shortness of breath.
  • Chest pain.
  • Heart palpitations.
  • Dizziness.
  • Lightheadedness.
  • Fainting.

Can tachycardia cause other medical issues?

Yes. Without treatment, certain types of tachycardia can lead to:

  • Blood clots.
  • Stroke.
  • Cardiac arrest.

What causes tachycardia?

Tachycardia has a number of causes, including:

  • Stress.
  • Consuming more caffeine or alcohol than your healthcare provider recommends.
  • Smoking or using tobacco products.
  • Cardiomyopathy, heart attack, heart disease or other heart problems.
  • Not enough blood in your coronary arteries.
  • Certain medicines.

Risk factors for tachycardia

  • Using tobacco products.
  • Having a family history of tachycardia.
  • Feeling stressed.
  • Having high blood pressure.
  • Having obesity.
  • Drinking a lot of caffeine or alcohol.
  • Having a thyroid issue but not getting treatment for it.
  • Taking drugs that aren’t legal.
  • Having certain heart issues.
  • Taking certain kinds of heart medicines.

Diagnosis and Tests

How is tachycardia diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask for your medical history and do a physical exam. They may also order tests.

What tests will be done to diagnose tachycardia?

Your healthcare provider can use several tests to diagnose tachycardia, including:

Management and Treatment

How is it treated?

Treatments vary depending on the type of tachycardia.

Atrial or supraventricular tachycardia treatments

  • Massages or maneuvers your provider does in an office visit.
  • Sleeping more.
  • Drinking less alcohol or caffeine.
  • Medicine.
  • Cardioversion.
  • Ablation.

Paroxysmal supraventricular tachycardia (PSVT) treatments

Ventricular tachycardia or fibrillation treatments

What can’t I drink with tachycardia?

Your healthcare provider may tell you to cut down on your caffeine or alcohol intake if you have tachycardia.

What medications/treatments are used?

Your healthcare provider may prescribe tachycardia medicines, including:

  • Beta-blockers.
  • Calcium channel blockers.
  • Antiarrhythmic medicines.
  • Blood thinners or anticoagulants (for atrial fibrillation).

Complications/side effects of the treatment

After an ablation, you may have swelling, bruising or redness where your healthcare provider inserted a catheter for the procedure. Other risks include:

  • Damage to your heart or blood vessels.
  • Bleeding.
  • Infection.
  • Blood clots.

After you get an ICD, there’s a risk of:

  • Infection.
  • Dizziness.
  • Shortness of breath.

How do I take care of myself?

Follow your healthcare provider’s instructions for taking your medicines and decreasing your intake of alcohol and caffeine.

Prevention

How can I reduce my risk?

You can reduce your risk of tachycardia in the following ways:

  • Control your high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
  • Stop smoking and/or using tobacco products.
  • Aim for a weight that’s healthy for you.
  • Eat a healthy diet.
  • Limit how much alcohol and caffeine you drink.
  • Manage your stress.

How can I prevent tachycardia?

Limit or avoid alcohol, smoking and caffeine. Talk to your healthcare provider before taking herbal supplements. All of these can trigger tachycardia. Taking care of your heart issues or finding alternatives to medicines that cause a problem can help you prevent some forms of tachycardia.

Outlook / Prognosis

What can I expect if I have tachycardia?

Depending on which type of tachycardia you have, you may have harmless symptoms, very dangerous symptoms (from ventricular tachycardia or fibrillation) or something in between. Medicines and other treatments can help you control your symptoms.

You may need to wear a Holter monitor or do electrophysiology testing to see how well your medicine is working.

How long tachycardia lasts

Tachycardia that puts you in danger doesn’t go away on its own. You’ll need to live a healthier lifestyle and take medicines to control it. You may also need to have a procedure, such as an ablation, to help you manage it.

Outlook for tachycardia

Although medications can’t cure tachycardia, they can help you control it. Ablation may be a long-term solution to certain types of tachycardia. Ventricular fibrillation can be fatal without immediate treatment.

Living With

How do I take care of myself?

Keep taking the medicines your healthcare provider prescribed and be sure to go to all follow-up appointments.

When should I see my healthcare provider?

Contact your provider if your medicine isn’t helping you as much anymore or if you start having new symptoms.

When should I go to the ER?

Get help right away if you feel your heart pounding, have chest pain or if you’re fainting or getting dizzy. You should also get help immediately for someone who collapses or is unconscious from ventricular fibrillation. They’ll need CPR to survive until paramedics arrive.

What questions should I ask my doctor?

  • Do I have a dangerous type of tachycardia?
  • What kind of treatment do you recommend for me?
  • What are your success rates with cardiac ablation?

Frequently Asked Questions

Is tachycardia an arrhythmia?

Yes, tachycardia is a kind of arrhythmia in which your heart rate is much faster than normal. Bradycardia is another kind of arrhythmia in which your heart rate is not fast enough.

Is tachycardia dangerous?

Yes, some types of tachycardia are dangerous, especially ventricular fibrillation. Some tachycardias are mild, and others cause issues that are moderately dangerous.

Can tachycardia go away?

If you have sinus tachycardia, your symptoms will go away once the fear, anxiety or other emotion that caused it ends. For most other types of tachycardia, you’ll need medication or even a procedure to keep your symptoms from coming back.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

Tachycardia symptoms can range from mild to severe, depending on which type of tachycardia you have. For peace of mind, talk to your healthcare provider if you’re having symptoms. They can tell you if you have a reason to be concerned. Keep taking the medicines your provider prescribed for you, especially heart medicines. Don’t stop taking them without your healthcare provider’s approval. And be sure to keep going to all of your follow-up appointments.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 10/03/2022.

References

  • American College of Cardiology. Supraventricular Tachycardia: What Increases Your Risk? (https://www.cardiosmart.org/topics/supraventricular-tachycardia/what-increases-your-risk) Accessed 10/3/2022.
  • American Heart Association. Multiple pages reviewed. Accessed 10/3/2022.
  • Heart Rhythm Society. Early Warning Signs. (https://upbeat.org/early-warning-signs) Accessed 10/3/2022.
  • National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. What is an Arrhythmia? (https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/arrhythmias) Accessed 10/3/2022.

Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy