What causes a rapid heartbeat?

A rapid heartbeat can be caused by a wide variety of conditions. Your heartbeat will normally speed up during exercise or physical activity and slow down during periods of rest. Sometimes a rapid heartbeat occurs for no known reason.

A rapid heartbeat can also result from certain medical conditions and other causes including:

  • Caffeine

  • Excessive alcohol use

  • Fever

  • Medication side effect

  • Pain

  • Shock

  • Smoking

  • Stress, anxiety, and anxiety disorders

Serious or life-threatening causes of a rapid heartbeat

In some cases, a rapid heartbeat may be caused by a serious or life-threatening condition, such as:

  • Cardiovascular disease, including coronary artery disease (CAD), abnormal heart valve function, congenital heart disease, hypertension, and heart failure

  • Dehydration and electrolyte imbalance

  • Hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid)

  • Street drugs, such as cocaine, crack, methamphetamine and LSD

What are the potential complications of a rapid heartbeat?

Complications of a rapid heartbeat can be serious and life threatening. Failure to seek treatment can result in serious complications and permanent damage. Once the underlying cause is diagnosed, it is important for you to follow the treatment plan you and your health care professional design specifically for you to reduce the risk of potential complications including:

  • Heart failure

  • Stroke

  • Ventricular fibrillation and cardiac arrest


  1. Arrhythmia: A Problem With Your Heartbeat. American Academy of Family Physicians. http://familydoctor.org/online/famdocen/home/common/heartdisease/basics/286.printerview.html.
  2. Tachycardia. American Heart Association. http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/Arrhythmia/AboutArrhythmia/Tachycardia_UCM_302018_Article.j....

What is a rapid heartbeat?

A rapid heartbeat, also called tachycardia, is a condition in which the heart is beating fast, generally more than 100 beats per minute for an adult. A rapid heartbeat can be normal, or it can result from a disease, disorder or other harmful condition.

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What other symptoms might occur with a rapid heartbeat?

A rapid heartbeat may occur with or without noticeable symptoms, which can vary depending on the underlying cause. If you know how to take your own pulse, you will generally feel a rapid pulse at the wrist with a rapid heartbeat. However, in some types of serious rapid heartbeats, such as atrial fibrillation, it may be difficult to feel and count an accurate pulse because the heart is not pumpi... Read more about rapid heartbeatsymptoms

Medical Reviewer: Cynthia Haines, MD Last Annual Review Date: Aug 8, 2013 Copyright: © Copyright 2014 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.

This Article is Filed Under: Heart, Blood and Circulation