It's normal for your heartbeat to speed up when you're excited or nervous or have just had a cup of coffee or exercised. But if your heart is racing all the time or at random times throughout the day, it's time to explore medical causes that could be behind your rapid heartbeat, also known as tachycardia. These causes can range from psychological to physiological, but the good news is, they're generally treatable.
"Heart racing is a very common complaint," Shephal Doshi, MD, director of cardiac electrophysiology and pacing at Providence Saint John’s Health Center, tells Bustle. "This does not always represent an abnormality. Most often, things that increase the adrenaline in the body can make the heartbeat faster and feel like it is racing. This can be a particular situation where there is a lot of stress or it can be after ingestion of things that increase the adrenaline in the body, such as caffeine or stimulants."
Anesthesiologist Edna Ma tells Bustle it's important to look at the underlying cause behind rapid heartbeat. "The most common causes of increased heart rate would be anxiety, stress (emotional and physical, including exercise, and allergic reactions), medications and withdrawal from medications, foods (e.g. energy drinks), metabolic problems (e.g. thyroid storm), anemia (e.g. bleeding from hemorrhoids or decreased marrow production of red blood cells), and cardiac and pulmonary derangements, including atrial fibrillation and pulmonary embolism. In general, treating the underlying cause is the the best approach to any vital signs, and not 'just treating the numbers.'"
If your heart rate has increased to an extent that's alarming to you, here are some possible things it could mean.
One obvious reason your heart may be pounding is that you're feeling anxious. Even if you don't have a history of anxiety, the condition can be situational. If your racing heart is accompanied by feelings of anxiety, you might benefit from meditation apps, yoga, acupuncture, or therapy, says Burris. If those methods don't work, you may want to look into psychiatric medication.
Hyperthyroidism is an excess of production of the hormone thyroxine by your thyroid gland, according to the Mayo Clinic. Other symptoms include anxiety, insomnia, agitation, a fast metabolism, sweating, and sensitivity to heat. You can get a blood test to examine your thyroid, says Burris. If there's a problem, medication can help it normalize.
Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS)
POTS is a condition where the rate of your blood flow changes when you change positions. To test whether you have this, you can take your pulse sitting down when you notice a rapid heartbeat, stand up, then take it again. "If your heart rate increases by 30 or more beats per minute within 10 minutes, you likely may have POTS," Burris says. You'll want to go to a dysautonomia clinic for further investigation and treatment, but you can also try at-home remedies include wearing a compression hose and having at least a gram of salt each day, says Burris.
"Some feel it's possible to have a food allergy that then triggers your heart to beat excessively," says Burris. "Some speculate it's related to a large release of histamine in response to the food you are sensitive to at that time." To figure out if this is the case, Burris recommends keeping a food diary and seeing if your heart rate is increasing in response to any particular food.
"Being sick with a fever will also cause your heart rate to increase as your immune system shifts into overdrive to try and kill the offending bacteria or virus," Scott S. Topiol, certified emergency nurse and clinical director of CPR Ready, tells Bustle. So, a rapid heart rate combined with a high temperature could warrant a trip to the doctor.
An increase in heart rate isn't usually serious, but in some cases, it can be a sign of a blood clot, says Topiol. "If someone experiences a sudden, unexplained increase in their heart rate, especially if it's accompanied by symptoms such as chest pain, shortness of breath, fainting, or dizziness, they should seek emergency medical care immediately."
"There are also some medications which can make the heart race either by directly stimulating the heart or having an indirect effect on the body, which leads to the heart racing," says Doshi. "This can occur after certain inhalers, for example." If your heart has started racing right after starting a medication, talk to your doctor about stopping it.
Lack of Food Or Water
"Dehydration causes strain on your heart, and to compensate for lack of blood circulation, your heart beats faster," cardiologist Dr. Garth Graham tells Bustle. "This causes dizziness, palpitations, and weakness." Low blood sugar can have a similar effect, so make sure you're eating and drinking enough.
"In general, if you have medical problems and your heart feels like it is racing, then you should see a physician for evaluation at some point," says Doshi. But if you're otherwise healthy and feel like you know why your heart is racing (like stress), Doshi says to see a physician if the symptoms occur often and are severe.