Key Points about Sinus Tachycardia

  • Sinus tachycardia may occur when your heart's sinoatrial node, the heart's natural pacemaker, sends quicker than normal electrical signals, resulting in a rapid and steady heart rate increase.
  • Sinus tachycardia occurs when something, such as physiological stress, pain, fever, anxiety, disrupts the heart's electrical signals that control how quickly the heart pumps blood.
  • If you have any condition that puts a strain on the heart, such as diabetes, heart disease, anemia, or high blood pressure, you are at a higher risk of developing sinus tachycardia.
  • Complications associated with sinus tachycardia include blood clots that could lead to a heart attack or stroke, heart failure, loss of consciousness, or sudden death.
  • Your doctor can diagnose sinus tachycardia by reviewing your medical history, performing a physical exam, and ordering diagnostic tests such as an electrocardiogram, blood tests, or an echocardiogram.
  • Some cases of sinus tachycardia do not need treatment. If you do need treatment, your doctor will treat the underlying condition with medications or lifestyle changes. If those treatments are not effective, you may need a cardiac ablation.

Overview

Sinus tachycardia is a type of irregular heartbeat that is characterized by a faster than normal heart rhythm. Your heart's sinus node generates electrical impulses that travel through the heart muscle, causing it to beat.

A normal sinus rhythm has a heart rate of between 60 and 100 beats/minute. When the sinus rhythm is consistently over 100 beats/minute, it is considered inappropriate sinus tachycardia.

Sinus tachycardia causes

Several different issues can cause sinus tachycardia, many of them not well understood. The most common cause is a trigger that results in the body inappropriately signaling the nerves to increase the heart rate. With inappropriate sinus tachycardia, the heart rate stays high even when triggers are not present.

Common causes of sinus tachycardia include:

  • Infection from the virus
  • Pain
  • Fever
  • Anxiety
  • Dehydration
  • Heart failure
  • Anemia
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Caffeine
  • Nicotine
  • Alcohol
  • Illegal drugs
  • Lung disease
  • Heart attack
  • Low blood pressure
  • Sepsis
  • Mercury poisoning
  • Electric shock
  • Drug withdrawal
  • Mitral valve prolapse
  • Hypoxia
  • Pulmonary embolism

Sinus tachycardia risk factors

Conditions that put a strain on the heart can increase your risk of developing sinus tachycardia.

Conditions include:

  • Anemia
  • Diabetes
  • Heart disease
  • Diabetes
  • Drinking too much alcohol or caffeine
  • High blood pressure
  • Thyroid issues, such as an overactive or underactive thyroid
  • Sleep apnea
  • Smoking
  • Using stimulant medications
  • Psychological stress

You can decrease your risk of sinus tachycardia with lifestyle changes or medical treatment for other heart conditions.

Sinus tachycardia symptoms

Many patients do not experience symptoms or show signs of sinus tachycardia. It can be a symptom of the underlying disease and may indicate how severe the condition is.

Common symptoms of sinus tachycardia include:

  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fainting
  • Dizziness
  • Anxiety
  • Headaches
  • Chest pain
  • Inability or decreased ability to exercise

Symptoms of sinus tachycardia may mimic symptoms of other health problems. People with heart conditions are more likely to have sinus tachycardia symptoms.

Sinus tachycardia complications

Potential complications of sinus tachycardia include:

  • Blood clots that lead to a heart attack or stroke
  • Heart failure if the heart cannot pump enough blood
  • Loss of consciousness or fainting
  • Sudden death

Sinus tachycardia diagnosis

Your doctor will diagnose sinus tachycardia by taking your medical history, performing a physical exam, and ordering diagnostic testing.

During the physical exam, your doctor will check your pulse for your heart rate and try to understand if there are other causes for your fast heart rate. If your doctor suspects you have tachycardia, he or she will order tests to determine what type of tachycardia you have. Treatment will vary based on what type of tachycardia you have.

Diagnostic tests your doctor may order include:

  • Electrocardiogram — can analyze the heart’s electrical rhythm
  • Holter monitor —  can evaluate your heart rate over time
  • Blood tests
  • Echocardiogram
  • Chest X-ray

Sinus tachycardia treatment

In many cases, treatment is not necessary for sinus tachycardia. If an underlying condition is causing your symptoms, it needs to be treated.

Treatments for sinus tachycardia include:

  • Medications — medications such as beta-blockers or calcium channel blockers are used to lower your heart rate
  • Lifestyle changes — your doctor may recommend lifestyle changes such as eating a healthy diet, exercising, maintaining a healthy weight, and avoiding anything that may increase your heart rate, such as taking recreational drugs or stimulants
  • Cardiac ablation — if medications and lifestyle changes are not effective, you may need a procedure to destroy the heart tissue area that is causing problems

When to seek care

If your symptoms suddenly become more severe or frequent, call your doctor. If you are experiencing chest pain or shortness of breath, seek immediate medical care.