Why A Fast Heart Beat Isn’t Dangerous

chest painFor many people a fast heart beat is a waking nightmare. A constant reminder that something isn’t right.

I think of a fast heart beat (tachycardia) in less intense terms. I consider it a sign of stress and not death. Tachycardia (100 heart beats per minute or more) simply isn’t the killer you think it is.

This is an important topic to address because it’s a symptom that has likely affected you.

You see, when you get tachycardic, you imagine all sorts of horrific scenarios, many of which probably involve a sickness of some kind.

It’s one of the reasons why tachycardia scares so well, it makes you feel like your life could end at any moment. But tachycardia doesn’t always mean danger or damage.

How It Works

When you feel anxious you might assume that anxiety is the source of your symptoms. But, in fact, the culprit is stress.

Stress is designed for short bursts of energy, attention, and focus to help you avert injury or death. The trouble is that when your stress response is set off it can sometimes remain activated for long periods of time.

One reason for this could be that you’re sensitive to stress, which fires off strong emotional reactions that make it hard for you to recover from bouts of anxiety.

The result of being stress sensitive is that your body’s production of stress hormone (i.e., adrenaline and cortisol) can be elevated and have a major impact on your body.

Stress can increase the demand for blood  (cardiac output), which makes the heart work harder, pump faster, and increase your heart rate as a result.

What does this look like in everyday life? Well, say that you’re sitting at your desk and get a quick twinge of chest pain and notice your pulse racing. It may not even be a lot, but just enough to make you worry about what it could mean. This is when you start questioning the health of your heart.

Your stress turns into worry, which causes anxiety. Now, your limbic system (emotional brain) kicks in and excites the nerves of your heart, so your heart speeds up even more. That’s “emotion based” tachycardia.

A strong emotional reaction can indeed cause tachycardia. It’s normal, and absent disease, isn’t dangerous.

Chances are that if you’ve had tachycardia you’ve sought medical attention for it. Maybe you did an EKG, blood tests, stress test, holter monitor, etc. Still, you stay scared. But you don’t have to be.

A Different View of Tachycardia

Think of it this way. Anxiety is an indicator of stress. Tachycardia is part of that stress signal. Where do you think all your worry, fear, and stress goes? It certainly doesn’t evaporate into the ether. Instead, those negative emotions are manifested in your body.

But that in no way means that your rapid heart beat is set to kill you. It just means that you’re affected by your emotional experiences. Stress and anxiety are charged, live wire, reactions to months or even years of internal strife. Your heart is reacting to that discord.

The other piece is that your past experience already tells you that a fast heart beat isn’t the killer you think it is. How many times have you experienced a rapid heart rate? And of those times how many ended in injury or death? None right?

So really what you’re dealing with is the anticipation of something awful happening and not with what is likely to happen.

That doesn’t mean that your fearful assumptions aren’t powerful. They can be strong.

This, however, doesn’t change the fact that stress triggers tachycardia in the same way, every time. It’s an old dog with no new tricks. The challenge is to learn how to sit with that reality and accept it when it’s happening.

That will take practice and a certain level of courage, but what’s the alternative?

If you haven’t gone to your doctor then go get screened. Twice if it makes you feel better. After that though, you need to get your mind focused on stress reduction and not anxiety symptoms.

Symptoms are a sign of something bigger that needs to be dealt with, they aren’t the source of your pain. And, most importantly, they can’t kill you.

 

 Disclaimer

Although tachycardia can be caused by an emotional response to stress, your tachycardia should be evaluated medically.

Tachycardia can be related to serious medical conditions.

 

Comments

  1. Oron says

    Great job writing articles on symptoms because like myself the symptoms can get really bad and can last for hours/days. We all think we have the worst symptoms and nobody can understand. Turns out you understand and most people who think they nobody has symptoms as bad as themselves read these articles and have a new understanding they arent alone.

  2. solo lolo says

    Thanks – this was very helpful. After 50 years of a racing heart ( I have a 3rd kidney and the xtra adrenaline works for and against me) I look forward to thinking about the beat, beat, fast beats of my heart in a different way.

  3. says

    Hi Sammy, anxiety and panic aren’t the cause of heart disease. The culprit is stress. Stress does kill in the long-run, so I hope that’s motivation to get your stress levels under control.

  4. Sammy says

    Thanks for saying I’m keep all these crazy sensation in my chest thanking it’s my heart doctor said my is fine I’m young not to worried about plus I have body weakness that made me scare I want that thing to go away.

  5. Susan says

    Hi Paul I’m always worry about my heart I done 20 time ECG within two and a half years 24 hour holter monitor it’s funny coz I’m not beleiving doctors so my heart is ok, so everytime I feel pain I related to heart so it’s realy bothering me but the good thing is I joined the gym to keep going in the life maybe I can can feel better
    Is that a good idea Paul
    Thanjs

  6. Susan says

    You make me feel better Paul coz always I think tachycardia is part if heart desease
    Thanks

  7. Desiree says

    Thank you for this, because I have suffered with a fast heartbeat and palpitations for over 20 years now. I have had enough of it, and am always looking for ways to calm myself down.

  8. says

    Great post…Its really important that people understand the many symptoms of anxiety… I know for my experience anyway that unusual bodily sensations just make the anxiety and panic worst ..your always in fear of possibly having a heart attack and have a your hand on your pulse or heart all the time

    Sometimes just reading the words of someone who has been there can be relieving in itself…The best tip of all is to visit the doctor and remove the fear of a possible medical condition….from there you can focus on the stress/anxiety/

    Cheers
    Cameron
    Northern Austalia

  9. Susan says

    Hi Cameron thanks got ur advice I’m from Australia too (Melbourne) do u feel any pain in ur body like upper back pain radiate to the front cuz I was complain to my docs about like I list above go couple time for ECG and nothing showing my heart is not fine but I don’t beleive doctors cuz of my pain don’t know what to do in seeing psycologist it help but when I have the pain in thinking its my heart and the thought of death fi u experience something like that please give advice
    Wish we can talk soon

  10. erinkar says

    Hi….I just stumbled onto this post and it was really helpful. My questions is this: how long can these episodes last if they’re anxiety-related? I had a racing heart rate for 20 hours the last time. Thanks!

  11. Mark says

    Hi I tried cocaine about 12 months ago and ended up having it most weekends 1 weekend I had it I ha to pace round my gArden having fast heartbeats and feeling faint ever since then I have never had it but I can still feel the heart racing I’ve been docs and hospital had all the tests and they are fine but all this time it still carries on will it stay like that forever it happens 3 times a week at the least

  12. mary says

    i have had heart beat 140 was taken in to hospital made it slower but it is
    fast again

  13. Elizabeth says

    Hi thanks for your message, but while this is all good at an intellectual level, when the pulse starts racing the brain stops working. My main issue is when i am at the gym and walking at 6 km.per hour speed, my pulse starts racing. It has even gone up to 170 beats and i quickly got off the treadmill. It gradually reduced within some mins. I have done ECGs and Echos and halter and nothing seems to be wrong. Any idea why this happens? How high can the pulse go ? Does it stabilise at some level ? What happens if it doesn’t ? Please advise

  14. says

    Hi Elizabeth, if you’ve done a full cardiac work up, ECG, etc then you are good to go. Your heart can sustain 175 bpm for a significant amount of time without issue. I recommend starting with a low heart rate target, say 130 bpm. Keep this up for a few weeks to build confidence and go from there. In addition, if you haven’t already start to work towards lowering anxiety in general rather than specifically focusing on exercise based anxiety alone.

  15. Kishore says

    Hi Paul,

    I am from India who had the similar symptoms of high pulse rate.
    I do work mostly in night shift and not having rest as preferred by doctor because it hard to get sleep in day.
    I am smoking from the last 3 years.Let me know if i quit smoking can i overcome this high pulse rate?

  16. Crystal says

    Hi Paul,
    I’ve recently gotten off of Celexa 2 weeks ago (lowest dosage, went off cold thurkey, only been on it for a month). my mom and doctor both said i was getting an adverse reaction to my meds, but I am still feeling anxious… Tight chest, tight throat, shaking, feeling scared, fast heart beat, and hot flashes….. Is it all due to regular anxiety now? Or is it still withdrawals from the med I was on? An ASAP response would be highly appreciated. :)

  17. says

    Hi Crystal, that’s hard to say. But if anxiety put you on the meds then it’s likely more of the same. That being said, getting off or on a medication can make things worse momentarily.

  18. Scott says

    Paul,
    I too have struggled with anxiety and panic attacks and have learned to deal with them. I also have gastro issues and I do believe that all of the above are stress related. I am 50 yrs old and got C-diff twice in the past year. I have been clear of it for about 5 months but have had increased nausea due to it “messing up” my system.

    Now over the past four and a half months I have experienced the rapid heart rate that won’t very easily subside. I went the an out of town ER and had blood tests and EKG and they said all is fine. My local doctor says “don’t worry about the heart rate”.

    I too have a very difficult time exercising now due to the heart rate increasing. Can you elaborate on what you said to Elizabeth???…

    ” I recommend starting with a low heart rate target, say 130 bpm. Keep this up for a few weeks to build confidence and go from there.”

    Is this to train your body that its okay to be doing these activities? I have an extremely sensitive Vasil Vagel response to stresses on my body. Can I assume this is related to stress?

    Finally, just prior to the first instance of my rapid heart rate taking some time to slow I began to experience periods of muscle fatigue and weakness. This has been off & on for months now. Would this too be associated with stress and anxiety? I feel a huge connection to my stomach.. when it is stressing, more of these systems materialize. I have been thinking it is the C-diff causing this but from what I gather you may say it is still just stress??

    I apologize for the length of this message and I thank in advance for you help with this,
    Scott

  19. says

    Hey Scott, Absolutely. You start slow with exercise and work your way up as a means of “testing” your body. When high anxiety strikes it is common to think that any sign of a symptom means illness or worse. You have to prove to yourself that you can raise your heart rate without causing damage. Also, GI issues, muscle weakness, and the like can all be related to stress and anxiety. It is important to remember that stress can have a significant impact on our bodies. All the issues you’ve listed are commonly seen in anxious people. Try not to give up on exercise and be sure to address your anxiety in earnest.

  20. Scott Dorval says

    Paul,

    Thank you for that prompt response. I know that the rapid heart rate is not going to damage me. I just can’t workout when it happens so it will be nice just to get an actual work out in again. I will keep at it.

    Can you direct me to any good sources of long term anxiety management? Something a little more than telling me to breath deeply in through my nose and out my mouth?

    thanks again,
    Scott

  21. says

    I think it really starts with a solid education on precisely what is happening. Claire Weekes has a book called hope and help for your nerves that is awesome. Aaron Beck created CBT his book Anxiety Disorders and Phobias: A Cognitive Perspective is a goldmine. This is a good place to start. You can also consider my ebook or coaching service. But whatever you do, continue to take slow, steady action towards solutions. Being problem focused is a waste of time.

  22. Netty says

    Hi Paul
    I’ve been reading your various posts for a while now and find them very helpful. I’ve seen my GP and a cardiologist re my palpitations and have been told I’m ok. I’ve got a harmless form of heartblock type 1 mobitz which showed up on the holter – I don’t feel these as they show up overnight and can be caused by increased fitness due to vagal tone. I’m fit and healthy and in my mid 40s. In the past my palps were mainly skipped beats however they’ve changed up this year to having both skipped beats on some occasions and on other occasions a faster regular heart rate or the sensation of my heart pounding. My heart rate doesn’t go over 100 but as my resting pulse is mid 50s, 80 – 90 feels fast. Can you tell me please if it’s normal with stress and anxiety to have both. I’ve also started suffering from debilitating panic attacks this year. I’m convinced it’s all anxiety/stress driven cause I had a period of 3 months mid year with no issues at all but when my stress levels rose back came the increased HR and skipped beats. Thanks for your time. Netty

  23. says

    Hey Netty,

    If you’ve been screened for heart issues and came out all clear, then you should know that anxiety can cause the symptoms you mentioned 100%. Fast heart beats, slow, skipped, etc can all be caused by excessive stress. Very normal when high anxiety is present.

  24. Amanda says

    Hi everyone! I have suffered from anxiety for a long time, but i can go years without an episode. It had been over a year since my last panic attack. Two weeks ago i ended up in the er with dizziness and shortness of breath (probably a panic attack). They did blood, urine, ekg, chest xray and a ct with contrast. Everything was fine except my ekg showed ventricle tachycardia. She said they are often wrong and said they couldn’t find anything that was medically causing my symptoms. I asked if it was anxiety and she said she couldn’t tell me if it was or not. I have been wonderfully fine since… until yesterday! I got a letter in the mail with a cardiology apt labeled as routine, but not until January 28th. Now i am a nervous wreck and of course i keep having bouts of fast heartbeat then I am normal again. I never had an abnormal ekg with a panic attack before. My cousin works for a heart hospital and she and one of the doctor think that i am probably fine and it was abnormal because of the panic attack. Problem is that now it is all i can think about. I do not smoke, or drink. I am overweight but eat fairly healthy. Exercise is usually yoga about an hour a week. Pretty sedentary except for housework and 4 kids. Any calming thoughts would be great… anyone else similar situation then a clean ekg?

  25. Michael Sta. Maria says

    Hello Paul,

    I am 26-yr old student from the Philippines. Such article is a good read when I was looking for solutions to treat my anxiety attacks. I learned a lot.

    Few questions, though.

    There were several occasions that I have gone through ECGs and everything were normal. Had my 2D echo and luckily still normal. What sort of natural remedies that you can suggest for me to control my stress levels?

    I am a freshman student taking up graduate studies so most of the time I read books here and there. So I lost track on how to manage my stress when it arises which I normally can control finely before.

    I appreciate your time reading my letter. Thank you.

    Michael

  26. says

    The short version is this:
    1. Don’t smoke
    2. Don’t drink coffee
    3. Exercise often
    4. Find a healthy means of expressing your fears

    That’s a good start!

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