6 Reasons Your Heart Rate is High

6 Reasons Your Heart Rate is High

February 24, 2022

Clinical Contributors to this story:
Ali Moosvi, M.D.

You’ve probably noticed that your heart rate rises when you exercise and that it drops when you’re lying in bed. But does your heart rate ever feel elevated for no apparent reason?

Having an increased heart rate isn’t a health condition in and of itself; rather, it’s a symptom caused by any number of circumstances. It may be a reaction to something that’s happening in your life, or it may be caused by a health condition.

“When you feel your heart pounding in your chest unexpectedly, don’t jump to conclusions that there’s something wrong with your heart, but if the problem continues without an explainable and simple cause, see a doctor to discuss your concerns,” says interventional cardiologist, Ali Moosvi, M.D. 

A high heart rate (also called tachycardia) may not be related to your heart

These are common reasons why your heart rate may be high:

  • Stress. When your body responds to something stressful, frightening or upsetting, you may get a jolt of adrenaline, which increases your heart rate.
  • Overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism). Having too much thyroid hormone in your system makes your heart beat faster than it should, increasing your heart rate.
  • Anemia. If you have anemia, you don’t have enough red blood cells to carry oxygen around your body to your organs. Your heart may beat more rapidly to compensate for this, in an attempt to help whatever oxygen-rich blood you have to reach your organs more quickly.
  • Medication side effects. A number of drugs may cause your heart rate to increase, including some medications that treat colds, asthma, anxiety, depression and high blood pressure.
  • Addictive substances. Caffeine, cigarettes and high levels of alcohol may cause your heart rate to rise after you use those substances. Additionally, illegal drugs like cocaine may also have this effect on your heart rate.
  • Strenuous physical activity. When you exert more than your body is prepared for, the heart rate increases to meet the higher demand. 

When an elevated heart rate is caused by lifestyle factors, managing stress or limiting caffeine and other vices may help you stop feeling that your heart is beating too quickly. If you’ve noticed a change in heart rate shortly after you’ve begun taking a new medication, ask your doctor if the drug could be responsible for the change and if an alternative medication or a dosage change is available. When your higher-than-normal heart rate is caused by a condition like anemia or hyperthyroidism, seeing your doctor and managing those conditions should help your heart rate return to normal.

Heart conditions that can cause a high heart rate

Some people who are born with congenital heart conditions may experience an elevated heartbeat. Other people who develop heart disease over time may notice that their heart rate feels high. When something gets in the way of the heart working properly, it may have to beat more quickly to pump blood more efficiently.

Heart conditions which may cause an elevated heart rate include:

  • Heart failure
  • Heart rhythm problems
  • Heart valve problems
  • Coronary artery disease
  • Scar tissue that forms after heart surgery

If you have been diagnosed with a heart condition and you’ve noticed that your heart rate has become higher than usual, make an appointment to talk to your doctor about the change.

When to seek emergency care for a high heart rate

Get immediate medical help if your heart rate seems too high and you have these symptoms:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Feeling dizzy or lightheaded
  • Weakness
  • Feeling faint, or fainting
  • Chest pain or discomfort

Next Steps & Resources:

The material provided through HealthU is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.



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