What Makes a Heart Rate Fast?

Drawing heart on beach
Medications, illness and obesity can cause your heart to beat faster. (Image: Tatiana Popova/iStock/Getty Images)

The American Heart Association reports that for the average, healthy adult, the heart beats about 60 to 80 times a minute when at rest. As you age, it’s not unusual for your heart rate to rise. People who are physically fit typically have a lower heart rate compared with those who do not exercise. Tachycardia is a heart rate that is faster than normal, and the causes can include excitement, high blood pressure, heart failure and more.

Heart Rate

The heart is a muscle that pumps oxygen-filled blood to all of your organs, cells and tissues. The right side of the heart receives blood from the body and pumps it to the lungs, according to Kids Health. The left side of the heart receives blood from the lungs and pumps it to the body. Prior to each heartbeat, the heart fills with blood, the muscle contracts and pushes the blood to its destination. While a normal resting heart rate is from 60 to 80 beats per minute, the Mayo Clinic indicates that a well-trained athlete will have a resting heart rate of 40 to 60 bpm. In a newborn baby, according to the National Institutes of Health, the heart can beat about 100 to 160 bpm. The resting heart rate of a teenager is generally about 60 to 100 bpm.

Medications

The Mayo Clinic warns that women who take 500 mg or more of acetaminophen daily are at risk for developing high blood pressure. Antidepressants, including Effexor, Wellbutrin and Nardil, can change the body’s response to certain chemicals in the brain, while at the same time increasing your heart rate. Many birth control pills and birth control devices contain hormones that can increase blood pressure by narrowing blood vessels. Using a birth control method containing a lower dose of estrogen could reduce your chances of spiking your blood pressure. Decongestants, including Sudafed and Afrin, also narrow blood vessels. The Mayo Clinic reports that some decongestant cold, flu and allergy medications may reduce the effect of certain blood pressure medications.

Tachycardia

Tachycardia is characterized by a significantly faster than normal heart rate. According to the NIH, tachycardias may cause no symptoms or complications. An abnormally fast heartbeat, however, can cause sudden cardiac arrest or stroke.
Tachycardia is caused when the normal electrical impulses in the heart are disrupted. This can occur if there is damage to the heart tissue from a heart attack, birth defect or abnormality of the heart, smoking, heavy alcohol or caffeine consumption, or an adverse reaction to illicit drugs or prescription medications.

Considerations

A fast heart rate is not always a bad thing. Exercise, excitement and just having a good time can set the heart in motion. When you exercise, your brain and organs need more oxygen, causing your heart to beat faster and pump more blood. In turn, when you’re not in motion, your resting heart rate is lower, and healthier, compared with those who don’t exercise.

In one casual experiment from a PBS program, kids measured their resting heart rates prior to and after riding a variety of roller coasters. Coasters that offered the least excitement increased the kids' heart rates by an average of 33.5 bpm. The scariest coaster increased their heart rates by an average of 54 bpm.

Reducing Your Heart Rate

For those whose heart rate runs high, it can’t hurt to take measures to lower it. Aerobic exercise, such as jogging, swimming or tennis, which raises your heart rate while you’re active, actually lowers your heart rate when you’re not exercising. Obesity can cause high blood pressure and cause your heart to race. By dropping pounds, you can eliminate the problem. The website Science Daily reports that relaxation techniques, such deep breathing, meditation and visualization, can reduce the heart rate and increase blood flow to major muscles.

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