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Last updated April 23, 2017, originally published March 10, 2016
By A. Weinberg, Contributing Columnist
“Baby, baby, can’t you hear my heart beat?” Sometimes heart beats
are less than romantic, though. Those times when you grip your chest
and think, “Why in the world is this happening? This can’t be good.”
Those times when your heart speeds up, and you have no idea why.
Usually, the situation is not a medical emergency, such as a heart
attack. For the average person, it’s probably a temporary cause.
If you find your pulse racing, and you had no previous problems, it is
usually linked to two things: substances or emotions. If you are a
person who compulsively drinks caffeine throughout the day, binges on
alcohol, chain smokes, or all of the above, your heart may protest. It’s
trying to tell you, “Hey, your body isn’t built for these things.” It could
also be linked to emotions. You may be stressed, and not realize it. You
are in a state of anxiety, and your system reacts.
How Fast Is Too Fast?
Typically, your heart rate averages around 70 beats per minute when
you are at rest. However, before you start worrying that your heart
rate is too high, be aware that "normal" can cover a pretty broad
range. Most healthy people have a heart rate between 60 and 100
beats per minute, according to the American Heart Association. Well-
conditioned athletes often have heart rates between 60 and 65 beats
Some marathoners report heart rates even lower, around 38 beats per
minute. The condition of having a heart rate that is too fast is called
"tachycardia", defined as a heart rate above 100 beats per minutes.As
we'll see below, there are different kinds of tachycardia brought on by
different circumstances and conditions.
The heart is often a messenger to the body, a kind of wake-up call.
Here are some ways to get back to a normal resting pulse:
1. Cut Down on the Caffeine
Yes, caffeine will speed up your system. And that’s okay; it’s natural for
it to do that. Taking 50 to 300 mg of it (approximately ½ to 3 cups of
coffee or tea) increases heart rate/blood pressure. However, if you
consume more than this amount in a short period of time, it’s possible
that it will cause tachycardia.
T. Kinugawa at the Kinugawa clinic in Japan performed a study in 2011
on atrial tachycardia. He found caffeine to be an important factor: the
problem worsened during caffeine load testing and was better after
But there's good news. Research conducted in 2001 by Arthur L.
Klatsky, senior consultant in cardiology at the Oakland Medical Center,
is heartening (pun intended) for the caffeine consumers amongst us.
He tested 130,054 people and the relation between coffee drinking and
Results showed that it was unlikely that moderate caffeine intake
increased arrhythmia risk. In summary: If you drink 2-4 cups of coffee
or tea a day, you’re probably a-ok. Caffeine is a lot like alcohol: don’t
binge drink it, have some water and time between glasses, and don’t
indulge in it too late at night.
2. Drink in Moderation
Alcohol is another substance that will immediately send a memo to your
heart. According to the American Heart Association, the immediate
effects of alcohol cause heart rate to increase slightly by acting as a
vasodilator (the blood vessels dilate and blood flow increases).
However, overconsumption can cause particularly dangerous results. In
a 1996 article, V. Menz, At the Phillips-Universtat in Marburg, Germany
defines the “holiday heart syndrome.” It is a supraventricular
tachyarrhythmia that occurs when people binge drink, often on
weekends or holidays.
Recent research corroborates its existence. In 2011, A. Krasigni from
the Centrul Clinic Universitar in Prishtine, Kosovo, studied the
arrythmogenic effects of alcohol.
He examined a total of 187 patients, doing a biological and
hematological analysis. The most common result was permanent atrial
fibrillation (61%). Arrhythmias appeared after excessive consumption
of alcohol, and went back to normal after a short period of abstinence
or pharmacological intervention. The takeaway message: Make sure
you cut down on the booze in general, and definitely don’t binge drink.
3. Stop Smoking
At this point, you’re probably thinking, “Oh man! Can’t I do anything
Remember that you don’t have to totally give up your favorite drinks or
coffee; but yes, smoking is one of those things you should just entirely
avoid. It increases heart rate, tightens major arteries, and causes
If you keep puffing the cigs for many years, it generally debilitates your
cardiovascular health. A 2013 study by George Papathanasiou from the
Technological Educational Institution of Athens, Greece, examined the
interaction of heart rate on exercising young adults.
There is an already-established link between smoking, abnormal heart
rate, and damaged cardiovascular health in middle-aged and older
adults. He wanted to look at what happened in those a bit younger.
298 people, aged 20-29, were tested for interactions with smoking and
The results: an increased heart rate at rest, a slowed heart rate with
exercise, and an inability to reach their age-predicted HR-maximum. No
matter what age you are, smoking has a serious potential to speed up
your heart and slow down your quality of life.
4. Treat Your Anxiety
It’s not just what you put into your body. Sometimes it’s how your
body reacts to outside stimuli, like stress.
If you’ve had a panic attack before (they happen is approximately 2%
of the population), you already know the feeling: your pulse
accelerates so quickly you feel like you’re having a heart attack. Later,
you realize you’re not, but it’s terrifying in the moment.
There are two main kinds of reactions to the attack: Sinus tachycardia
and supraventricular tachycardia.
The first, sinus tachycardia, is the most common. It happens when your
body is constantly in flight or fight mode, with adrenaline levels high.
Your body is built to deal with this in the short-term, if you face
danger, but when it is chronic, it can cause attacks. Maybe you don’t
even feel particularly anxious in the moment, but your body reacts at
random given the accumulated stress.
The second, supraventricular tachycardia, occurs as a response to
hyperventilation. Rapid breathing is common in those with anxiety.
According to a 2013 study by G. Frommeyer from the University of
Muenster in Germany, panic attacks and supraventricular tachycardia
can be related or unrelated.
What is clear is that they often occur in young, healthy patients and are
more common in women. Sometimes the panic disorders go away, but
the arrhythmia remains. It’s important to see a mental health
professional to minimize anxiety symptoms, and take medication, if
5. Check Your Medications
Sometimes, drugs designed to diminish one symptom will exacerbate
another. Then you have to do a cost-benefit analysis of whether it’s
worth it. Often, tachycardia in and of itself is not dangerous, but can
develop into more serious problems when chronic.
According to a 2004 study by P. Pacher from the National Institute of
Health in Bethesda, Maryland, some new antipsychotic drugs are
associated with the occurrence of severe arrhythmias or hypertension,
even in those without a history of cardiovascular disease.
These include tricyclic antidepressants such as imipramine, desipramine,
amitryptiline, and clomipramine. It also includes neuroleptics, such as
haloperidol, droperidol, thioridazine, and pimozide.
6. Treat Your Anger and Depression
According to a 1998 study by M. Fava at the Depression Clinical and
Research Program, at the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston,
there is a unipolar subtype of depression characterized by irritability
and anger attacks.
The symptoms include tachycardia, sweating, flushing, and a tightness
in the chest. This can be treated with antidepressants and
psychotherapy. Even in people without the condition, anger can cause
accelerated pulse, but it’s especially important to make sure you get
necessary help if you are prone to attacks.
7. Check for High Blood Pressure
It may be that your tachycardia is a side-effect of high blood pressure
in general. Like anxiety attacks, it is a bit of a chicken-egg situation, but
it’s worth it to see if it’s your case. In 1997, Paolo Palatini, from the
University of Padova, Italy found a relationship between tachycardia
and high blood pressure or metabolic abnormalities.
Moreover, having hypertension in combination with a rapid heartbeat
raises your risk for a cardiac attack by 16% for every 10 beats above
normal, according to a 2010 study le by Dr. Stevo Julius of the
University of Michigan.
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|For most men, drinking more than 3
cups of coffee a day raises the heart