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FAQ: Rapid Heartbeat Print E-mail
Written by Glenn Rosenberg   
Wednesday, 11 November 2009

A rapid heartbeat is defined as a heart rate that is faster than normal. The heart normally beats fewer than 100 times per minute in adults. In children, the heart can beat slightly faster than 100 times per minute and still be considered normal.

What is going on in the body?

At rest, a person's heart rate usually stays within a standard range. This range is usually 50 to 100 times per minute in adults and slightly faster in children. With increased physical activity, stress, or other conditions, however, the heart rate may increase above the normal level.

What are the causes and risks of the condition?
There are many possible causes of a rapid heartbeat, including:
_ exercise, heavy lifting or other activity that requires exertion
_ fear, pain, anxiety, stress, anger, or nervousness
_ fever
_ dehydration. This may be caused by too little intake of fluids, loss of blood, diarrhea, vomiting, or medications such as diuretics, sometimes called "water pills."
_ low blood pressure, also called hypotension
_ hyperthyroidism, which is a level of thyroid hormone in the body that is too high
_ congestive heart failure, a condition in which the heart cannot pump blood effectively
_ irregular heartbeats, known as arrhythmias, such as atrial fibrillation or ventricular tachycardia. These may be caused by salt imbalances, heart attack, and other conditions.
_ low red blood cell count known as anemia
_ medications or drugs. Albuterol, which is commonly used to treat asthma, as well as some over the counter and prescription decongestants can cause rapid heartbeat. Cocaine abuse and alcohol withdrawal are other causes of rapid heartbeat.
_ excessive caffeine intake
_ some herbal therapies such as ephedra, also called ma huang
_ infections. These may include such as a serious blood infection called sepsis and pneumonia.
_ nerve damage, known as peripheral neuropathy, that affects the nerves attached to the heart. This is often due to diabetes, a condition that results in a high level of blood sugar.
_ low oxygen in the blood, also called hypoxia. There can be many causes for this. Examples include asthma and emphysema.

Other causes are possible. Sometimes, no cause can be found.

What are the treatments for the condition?
Treatment is directed at the cause. For example, someone who is dehydrated can be given fluids. A person with a fever may be given acetaminophen. Someone with an infection may need antibiotics or surgery. An individual with an arrhythmia may need heart medications to slow the heart rate, such as atenolol or lidocaine.

What are the side effects of the treatments?

Potential side effects depend on the treatments used. For example, antibiotics may cause allergic reactions or stomach upset. Surgery can result in infection, bleeding, or allergic reaction to the anesthesia.

What happens after treatment for the condition?
The heartbeat usually returns to normal after treatment of the cause. For example, when fever, infection, or pain are the cause, no further treatment for the rapid heartbeat is needed if these condition go away. Someone with congestive heart failure or diabetes, however, often needs lifelong treatment and monitoring.

How is the condition monitored?
The speed of the heartbeat can be monitored closely if needed. This is done with special equipment that measures the electrical activity in the heart. Other monitoring is related to the cause. For example, those with a heart attack may need close monitoring in the intensive care unit.


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