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Understanding Tachycardia-Causes, Dangers, and Management

What is Tachycardia   

Tachycardia(心跳過速) is a medical term for a heart rate that exceeds the normal resting rate – typically defined as a heart rate over 100 beats per minute in adults. Heart rate can be physiologically elevated for various reasons, including exercise, anxiety, fever, or medical conditions. However, when we refer to tachycardia in a clinical sense, we are often concerned with rates that are inappropriately high considering the circumstances. Of particular concern are tachycardias originating in the ventricles, specifically ventricular tachycardia (VT) and ventricular fibrillation (Vfib) that can disrupt the heart’s pumping ability and are medical emergencies requiring prompt attention. 

The heart has an electrical system that controls the rate and rhythm of the heartbeat. Tachycardia occurs when this electrical system is compromised, leading to a rapid firing of electrical impulses that cause the heart to beat faster. These impulses can originate from the atria (upper chambers of the heart) or the ventricles (lower chambers of the heart), leading to different types of tachycardia. 

There are several types of tachycardia, each with its characteristics and potential causes: 

  • Atrial Fibrillation (AFib): The most common type of serious arrhythmia, where the atria beat chaotically and irregularly; an “irregularly irregular” beat. 
  • Atrial Flutter: Similar to AFib, however, the atria's beating is more organized and less chaotic, the classic “saw-tooth” appearing ECG. 
  • Supraventricular Tachycardia (SVT): A broad term that includes many forms of tachyarrhythmia originating above the ventricles. 
  • Ventricular Tachycardia (VT): A rapid rhythm that starts in the ventricles and is potentially life-threatening if not treated promptly. 
  • Ventricular Fibrillation (VFib): A chaotic rhythm that prevents the heart from pumping effectively and can lead to sudden cardiac death if not immediately treated. 

What is Stable Tachycardia?   

Stable tachycardia is a fast heart rate that, while elevated, does not immediately endanger a person's life or lead to hemodynamic instability. Patients with stable tachycardia may still experience symptoms, but they do not suffer from severe blood pressure drops or significant heart function impairment. 

What Causes Tachycardia?  

Tachycardia can have multiple triggers, ranging from physiological responses to exercise,stress or hyperthermia to medical conditions like heart disease, thyroid and adrenal conditions or electrolyte imbalances. Understanding what causes tachycardia is fundamental to addressing the underlying issues, effective treatment and control and preventing recurrence. 

Why Does Pulmonary Embolism Cause Tachycardia?   

A pulmonary embolism, a blockage in one of the pulmonary arteries in the lungs, can lead to tachycardia as the heart struggles to pump venous blood to the lungs against increased resistance. This strain can cause the heart to beat faster in an attempt to maintain adequate cardiac output and peripheral oxygenation. 

How Dangerous is Tachycardia? 

The danger of tachycardia lies in its potential to compromise heart function, effective circulating volume and cause blood clots . If left untreated, it can lead to severe complications, including heart failure, thromboembolic events such as stroke or myocardial infarction, or sudden cardiac death. Understanding how dangerous tachycardia is underlines the need for prompt medical evaluation and treatment. 

How to Treat Tachycardia?   

Treatment for tachycardia  is always cause-directed. Hence, it involves more thorough medical history and evaluation with subsequent adjunctive use of ECG, echocardiogram and laboratory examinations as indicated. Options range from simple deep breathing, oral hydration/fluid and electrolyte replacement, carotid massage, medication to control heart rate to more invasive procedures like catheter ablation or the implantation of a pacemaker or cardioverter-defibrillator devices. Learning how to treat tachycardia effectively involves a tailored approach by healthcare professionals. 

What is a Sign of Unstable Tachycardia? 

Unstable tachycardia may present with signs such as chest pain, palpitations, severe shortness of breath, loss of consciousness, fainting spells or significant lightheadedness. These symptoms indicate a critical situation where immediate medical intervention is necessary. 

How to Manage Tachycardia? 

Long-term management of tachycardia may include lifestyle modifications, such as reducing caffeine intake and managing stress, alongside medical therapies. Here are some key strategies for managing tachycardia: 

>Medical Treatment 

  • Medications: Beta-blockers and calcium channel blockers are commonly used to control heart rate and improve symptoms. Antiarrhythmic drugs may also be prescribed to maintain a regular heart rhythm. However, caution is always advised as certain anti-arrhythmic drugs can also cause other arrhythmias. 
  • Electrophysiology (EP) Study and Ablation: For certain types of tachycardia, an EP study can identify the exact location of the heart tissue causing the abnormal rhythm, which can then be targeted and ablated (destroyed) to restore a normal rhythm. 
  • Implantable Devices: In cases where medication is ineffective, a pacemaker or an implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD) may be recommended. These devices help monitor the heart rhythm and provide an electrical impulse or shock to restore a normal rhythm when necessary. 

>Lifestyle Adjustments 

  • Stress Reduction: Techniques such as deep breathing exercises, yoga, or meditation can help manage stress, which is a known trigger for tachycardia. 
  • Limiting Stimulants: Reducing the intake of caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol can be beneficial as these substances can increase heart rate and potentially trigger tachycardia. 
  • Regular Exercise: While vigorous exercise can sometimes trigger tachycardia, maintaining a moderate exercise routine helps improve overall cardiovascular health and prevent problematic tachycardias. It's important to discuss with your doctor the most appropriate exercise regimen for your specific condition. 
  • Adequate Sleep: Ensuring sufficient rest can help regulate the heart rate and improve overall heart health. 
  • Healthy Diet: Eating a heart-healthy diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins can support cardiovascular health and reduce the risk of tachycardia. 
  • Body Check: Getting medical assessment and treatment earlier  improves outcomes and quality of life significantly. 

>Monitoring and Regular Check-Ups 

  • Regular Monitoring: Patients with tachycardia should regularly monitor their heart rate and know their triggers. Devices like properly calibrated smartwatches or portable ECG monitors can help with active monitoring. 
  • Follow-Up Appointments: Regular appointments with a healthcare provider are essential to monitor the condition, evaluate the effectiveness of treatments, and make necessary adjustments. 

>Emergency Preparedness 

  • Recognize the Signs: Recognizing the signs of unstable tachycardia is crucial. If you experience severe symptoms such as chest pain, fainting, or rapid palpitations that do not resolve quickly, seek immediate medical attention. 
  • Action Plan: Have a plan in place for rapidly accessing medical care if you experience signs of unstable tachycardia. An automated external defibrillator (AED) can be a life-saving apparatus for many emergent cardiac cases including unstable tachycardias. 


Understanding tachycardia and its implications is fundamental for managing the condition effectively. With the proper care and treatment plan, most people with tachycardia can lead a normal and active everyday life. If you or a loved one is experiencing symptoms of tachycardia or have concerns about your heart health, we encourage you to book an appointment with our experienced team at OT&P Healthcare. We’re here to support you in every step of your healthcare journey.   


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Topics: General Practice / Family Medicine

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