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Care During Chemotherapy and Beyond

Rapid Heart Beat



What is a rapid heart beat?

A rapid or fast heartbeat is when your heart is beating faster than normal. A normal heart rate is 60 to 100 beats per minute. Tachycardia is considered a heart rate of greater than 100 beats per minute.

If you are exercising, or performing any kind of activity, your heart will normally beat faster. This allows your heart to pump blood through out your body, to provide oxygen to the tissues.

If you are experiencing fear, anxiety or stress, your heart rate will increase.

People who can feel their heartbeat, or flutter, may be experiencing palpitations. This may be due to stress, anxiety, medications, or it may be a sign of a serious heart condition.  If you experience palpitations, you should report this to your healthcare provider.

There are many other causes of a rapid heartbeat, including:

  • Infection in the lung, such as pneumonia
  • Infection in the blood, which may cause a fever
  • Anemia
  • Low blood pressure
  • Dehydration
  • Drinking alcohol and caffeine
  • Over the counter decongestants, and appetite suppressants
  • Thyroid disorders
  • Heart disorders, including irregular heartbeats (arrhythmias)

What are some symptoms to look for?

  • You may have no symptoms of your rapid heartbeat, or you may feel palpitations.
  • You may feel anxious, or "stressed out".
  • You may feel your heart pounding in your chest or throat, which may cause pain or mild discomfort. You may also feel your heart "fluttering", and it may seem as if it is skipping a beat.
  • If you have anemia, you may be overly tired, or very weak. It may be hard for you to do any kind of your normal activities. 
  • Some people may chest pain in addition to their palpitations, which may range from excruciating, to a mild discomfort. The severity of pain does not indicate how severe the damage to the heart muscle may be. If you experience chest pain with your palpitations, seek emergency help immediately.
  • If your rapid heartbeat is due to lung problems, you may experience shortness of breath, either at rest or while performing any type of activity. This may include walking to the door, or climbing stairs.
  • For rapid heart rates that are caused by shortness of breath, you may have trouble lying flat in bed, and you may have to sleep on 2 or more pillows. Your shortness of breath may cause you to wake up in the middle of the night.
  • If you have heart problems, your legs may be swollen, especially in your feet and ankles. You may gain "water" weight easily, or feel bloated.

Things you can do:

  • Make sure you tell your doctor, as well as all healthcare providers, about any other medications you are taking (including over-the-counter, vitamins, or herbal remedies).  Do not take aspirin or products containing aspirin unless your healthcare provider permits this.
  • Remind your doctor or healthcare provider if you have a history of diabetes, liver, kidney, or heart disease.
  • If you have a family history of heart disease, stroke, high blood cholesterol, or high blood pressure, in a first or second-degree relative, you may be at risk for certain problems. Notify your healthcare provider if you have any of these diseases in your family.
  • Smoking can cause palpitations and increased heart rate. If you smoke, be sure to quit. Smoking can also increase the chance of developing heart vessel damage.
  • Caffeine and alcohol can cause palpitations and increased heart rate. Eliminate caffeine and alcohol from your diet, and your symptoms may resolve.
  • Keep a diary of your increased heart rate, if it is occurring regularly. Write down the foods that you have eaten, the exercise or activity you were undergoing when the rapid or irregular heartbeats occurred, and how you felt before they occurred. This diary may be valuable in determining the cause of your symptoms.
  • Questions to ask yourself, may include:
    • Did the increased heart rate occur gradually, or did this episode come on all of a sudden? Was I feeling anxious? Did I perform any kind of activity, or was I resting?
  • Make sure to exercise, under the supervision of your healthcare provider. Walking, swimming, or light aerobic activity may decrease your resting heart rate, help you to lose weight, and promote the flow of oxygen in your lungs and blood.
  • Use relaxation techniques to decrease the amount of anxiety you have. If you feel anxious, place yourself in a quiet environment, and close your eyes. Take slow, steady, deep breaths, and try to concentrate on things that have relaxed you in the past.
  • If you are ordered a medication to treat this disorder, do not stop taking any medication unless your healthcare provider tells you to. Take the medication exactly as directed. Do not share your pills with anyone.
  • If you miss a dose of your medication, discuss with your healthcare provider what you should do.
  • If you experience symptoms or side effects, especially if severe, be sure to discuss them with your health care team.  They can prescribe medications and/or offer other suggestions that are effective in managing such problems.
  • Keep all your appointments for your treatments.

Drugs that may be prescribed by your doctor:

  • ACE inhibitors - These drugs work by opening, or dilating, your arteries. They will lower your blood pressure, and improve blood flow to your kidneys, and through out your body. Your healthcare provider may also prescribe these medications if you have diabetes or protein in your urine, to protect your kidneys. Some examples of this medication may include: Enalapril Maleate (Vasotec®), Lisinopril (Zestril®), and Fosinopril Sodium (Monopril®)
  • Antianxiety medications: If your increased heart rate is due to anxiety, your healthcare provider may prescribe an anti-anxiety medication, called an anxiolytic.  These medications will help you to relax. It is important to take these medications only when you are feeling anxious. Do not operate heavy machinery, or drive an automobile while taking these. If these medications do not control your symptoms, discuss this with your doctor.
  • Beta-blockers - can be used to slow down your heart rate, and improve blood flow through your body. You may take this drug if you have been diagnosed with irregular heartbeats, or high blood pressure. Some examples of this medication may include: Metoprolol (Lopressor®), propanolol (Inderal®), and atenolol (Tenormin®).
  • Calcium Channel Blockers - These medications may be given to treat chest pain, high blood pressure, or irregular heart beats. This medication will slow your heart rate. A few common drugs include Verapamil HCL (Calan®), and Diltiazem (Dilacor XR®).
  • Digoxin - Also called digitalis, this medication works by slowing down the heart rate, and making it beat more effectively. This will pump blood through out the body better. It is also called Lanoxin®.
  • Diuretics - may be known as "water pills", as they work to prevent heart failure by making you urinate out extra fluid. Some examples of this medication may include furosemide (Lasix®), and Hydrochlorthiazide. You may receive this medication alone or in combination with other medications.
  • Do not stop any of these medications abruptly, as serious side effects may occur.

When to call your doctor or health care provider:

  • Fever of 100.5° F (38° C), chills, sore throat (possible signs of infection, especially if you are undergoing chemotherapy)
  • Shortness of breath, chest pain or discomfort; swelling of your lips or throat should be evaluated immediately
  • Feeling your heart beat rapidly (palpitations)
  • Any new rashes on your skin, especially if you have recently changed medications
  • Any unusual swelling in your feet and legs
  • Weight gain of greater than 3 to 5 pounds in 1 week.

Note:  We strongly encourage you to talk with your health care professional about your specific medical condition and treatments. The information contained in this website is meant to be helpful and educational, but is not a substitute for medical advice.