What is Sinus Tachycardia?
Sinus tachycardia occurs when your heart’s natural pacemaker, the sinoatrial node, sends quicker than standard signals, causing a rapid heart rate increase.
The cause of sinus tachycardia is unknown but is thought to be caused by a problem with your sinus node, nerve dysfunction that causes your heart rate to decrease, or something triggers your heart rate to increase.
Conditions that put a strain on the heart, such as diabetes, heart disease, anemia, or high blood pressure, increase your risk of developing inappropriate sinus tachycardia.
The most common symptom of inappropriate sinus tachycardia is an inexplicably fast heart rate, even at rest.
Causes of sinus tachycardia
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.
There are two types of sinus tachycardia - normal and inappropriate.
While the exact cause of inappropriate sinus tachycardia is unknown, it can be caused by several issues. The most common causes include:
- Problem with your sinus node.
- A trigger that causes your heart rate to increase.
- Nerve dysfunction that causes your heart rate to decrease.
Common triggers of sinus tachycardia include:
- Heart failure or heart attack.
- Mitral valve prolapse.
- Pulmonary embolism.
- Lung disease.
- Infection from viruses.
- Low blood pressure.
- Mercury poisoning.
- Electric shock.
- Drug withdrawal.
Risk factors for sinus tachycardia
- Heart disease.
- Drinking too much alcohol or caffeine.
- High blood pressure.
- Thyroid issues, such as an overactive or underactive thyroid.
- Sleep apnea.
- Using stimulant medications.
- Psychological stress.
Symptoms of sinus tachycardia
Symptoms of inappropriate sinus tachycardia include:
- A rapid heartbeat that is uncomfortable.
- Shortness of breath.
- Dizziness or fainting.
- Chest pain.
- Inability or decreased ability to exercise.
- Feeling anxious.
Symptoms of inappropriate tachycardia can mimic symptoms from other heart conditions, so it is essential to schedule an appointment with your doctor to diagnose the underlying cause of your symptoms.
Complications of sinus tachycardia
While inappropriate sinus tachycardia is not life-threatening for most people, you should schedule an appointment with your doctor to discuss your risk.
Complications of sinus tachycardia include:
- Blood clots. A blood clot could form and lead to a heart attack or stroke.
- Heart failure. If the heart cannot pump enough blood, heart failure can occur.
- Loss of consciousness or fainting.
- Sudden death.
Diagnosing sinus tachycardia
Your doctor can diagnose inappropriate sinus tachycardia. During a medical exam, your doctor will take your medical history, perform a physical exam, and order diagnostic tests.
Your doctor will check your heart rate and evaluate what could be causing your abnormally fast heart rate. If you have signs or symptoms of tachycardia, you will need additional testing to determine the type of tachycardia you have.
Diagnostic tests include:
- Electrocardiogram to analyze the heart’s electrical rhythm.
- Holter monitor to evaluate your heart rate over a period of time.
- Blood tests.
- Chest X-ray.
Treatment for sinus tachycardia
In most cases, sinus tachycardia is not life-threatening and does not need to be treated. If an underlying condition is causing your sinus tachycardia, it needs to be treated.
Treatments for sinus tachycardia include:
- Lifestyle changes. Making lifestyle changes such as eating a healthy diet, exercising, maintaining a healthy weight, and avoiding activities that increase your heart rate, can help reduce your risk of experiencing inappropriate sinus tachycardia.
- Medication. Your doctor will identify the most appropriate medications for your case. Medications such as beta-blockers and calcium channel blockers are often tried first to lower your heart rate. It is essential to inform your doctor of all medications you are taking and take medications exactly as prescribed. You could make your condition worse by taking medications inappropriately.
- Cardiac ablation. When less invasive treatments have not been effective, cardiac ablation can modify or destroy the node causing the issues.
When to Seek Care
If your symptoms are becoming more severe or increasing in frequency, call your doctor.
If you are experiencing chest pain or shortness of breath, call 911, and seek immediate medical care.