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.

 

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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. 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

  13. 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.

  14. 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?

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