A racing heart is a type of arrhythmia--a change in the normal rhythm of the heart. When an adult heart beats faster than 100 beats per minute, the arrhythmia is known as tachycardia. A racing heart can be a result of fear, stress, exercise or certain medications. This is known as sinus tachycardia and is not usually life-threatening. But other types of tachycardia (atrial and ventricular) originate in the chambers of the heart and require medical diagnosis and treatment. Arrhythmia itself can also be a symptom of a life-threatening condition such as heart disease.
A too-fast heartbeat has adverse effects on the body. Blood flow is reduced because the rapid heartbeat doesn't allow enough time for the heart to fill before it contracts. This causes a drop in blood pressure and reduces oxygen flow to vital organs. The result is a long list of possible symptoms.
When your heart races it feels as though it is throbbing or pounding in your chest. This is a symptom called palpitation. Your pulse may pound visibly in your neck or wrist. You may feel dizzy or lightheaded, as though you're going to pass out. Clamminess and sweating are common. More severe symptoms include chest pain or pressure, shortness of breath and unconsciousness.
Doctors may treat the symptoms of racing heart, but will more likely determine and treat the underlying cause. Quick medical attention is essential. Initial emergency treatments include medication or a shock to the heart with a defibrillator. Medication is sometimes administered long-term. A medical device such as a pacemaker or implantable defibrillator may be necessary, along with surgery to correct any heart abnormalities.
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