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Q: What is tachycardia?

Tachycardia is a racing heartbeat. While it's normal for the heart to beat faster when you exercise, with tachycardia, your heartbeat speeds up even when you are at rest. This is caused by a problem with the electrical system in your heart.

Tachycardia can be dangerous or cause health problems if it's not treated. When your heart is beating too fast, it may not be able to pump enough blood through your body to deliver oxygen to your muscles and organs. This can cause you to feel lightheaded, short of breath, or chest pain. You might also be able to feel heart palpitations in your chest or notice a rapid pulse rate. In some cases, you might faint.

Over time, if it's not treated, tachycardia can increase your risk of blood clots, heart failure, stroke, repeated fainting, and cardiac arrest. But this condition can be treated with medication and/or surgery. If you experience a racing heartbeat or any of these symptoms, see a doctor. He or she can diagnose the problem with an examination, or a test called an electrocardiogram.

Lifestyle changes can also help, including maintaining a healthy weight with diet and exercise, smoking cessation, keeping drinking in moderation, limiting caffeine and any medications that contain stimulants, and controlling stress.

Shalin H. Patel, MD

Interventional Cardiology

Maui Memorial Medical Center Outpatient Clinic
85 Maui Lani Parkway
Wailuku, HI 96793