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Understanding Concerning Heart Rates: When to Seek Medical Attention

31 May 2024 · 5 mins read


Learn about the factors that influence your heart rate, when to seek medical attention, and tips to maintain a healthy heart rate.

Regular Heart Rates

The heart is a muscular organ that pumps blood throughout the body’s circulatory system, ensuring a continuous flow of blood. It beats rhythmically to maintain this flow.

The cardiac cycle starts when the right atrium receives deoxygenated blood from the body, serving as a reservoir that primes the right ventricle. The right ventricle then pumps blood to the lungs for oxygenation. The oxygenated blood moves to the left atrium and then the left ventricle, which contracts to push the oxygen-rich blood into the arteries, supplying vital organs with oxygen and nutrients.

The heart’s rhythmic contractions are initiated and coordinated by electrical signals from the sinoatrial (SA) node – the heart’s natural pacemaker. A healthy SA node can adjust the heart rate as needed. For instance, when the body requires an increased cardiac output, the heart rate generally rises to meet the demand.

A regular heart rate falls in the range of 60 to 100 beats per minute (bpm) at rest. Any persistent heart rate that deviates frQom this typical range may indicate underlying issues and warrant medical attention.

Factors Influencing the Heart Rate

There are various factors that can influence heart rate. Heart rate typically decreases with age due to changes to the heart’s electrical system, decreased responsiveness to hormones, amongst other factors.

Your activity level also significantly impacts your heart rate. Your resting heart rate is lower and serves as a baseline measurement. During exercise, your heart increases to provide muscles with more oxygen. To determine your maximum safe heart rate during exercise, deduct your age from 220. For instance, if you are 50 years old, your exercising heart rate should ideally remain under 170 beats per minute (bpm).

Fitness level is another determinant, as fitter individuals often have lower resting heart rates, sometimes ranging from 40 to 50 beats per minute (bpm). Regular exercise enhances the heart’s stroke volume, improving its efficiency in oxygen delivery and resulting in a slower, healthier pulse for physically fit individuals.

Emotions play a role too whereby stress, anxiety, and strong emotions can elevate heart rate due to the body’s “fight or flight” response, preparing for potential threats. For instance, sudden fright can trigger a surge in heart rate. Additionally, medications and stimulants such as caffeine and nicotine can influence heart rate temporarily, with some medications either increasing or decreasing it.

Identifying Conditions Related to Heart Rates

A heart rate may help serve as a critical indicator of potential cardiovascular issues or medical emergencies.

Heart rate condition Details
Too slow (Bradycardia)

Bradycardia refers to an unusually low resting heart rate, typically below 60 beats per minute in adults.

Causes: Certain medications, heart disease, thyroid disorders, or inherent issues with the heart's electrical system.

Mild cases of bradycardia are generally well-tolerated and often symptom-free. In some instances, it may lead to fatigue, dizziness, or fainting.

Severe bradycardia can impede the heart’s effectiveness in pumping blood, necessitating medical interventions like a pacemaker, which helps regulate the heart’s rhythm and restore a normal heart rate.

Too fast (Tachycardia)

Tachycardia refers to an elevated heart rate, typically surpassing 100 beats per minute in adults while at rest.

Causes: Stress, fever, anaemia, thyroid disorders, or other heart-related issues.

Symptoms of tachycardia may include palpitations, breathlessness, and dizziness. Furthermore, it can strain the heart, heightening the likelihood of complications like blood clot formation or heart failure. 

Treatment options vary depending on the underlying cause and severity. Mild cases of tachycardia often present without symptoms and may necessitate no treatment beyond adopting a healthy lifestyle and engaging in regular exercise.

In certain instances, particularly when accompanied by symptoms, medications or medical procedures may be employed to rectify the irregular heart rhythm.

Irregular (Arrhythmia)

Arrhythmia refers to irregularities in the heartbeat, manifesting as either a rapid (tachycardia), slow (bradycardia), or erratic rhythm.

Multiple factors, such as heart disease, imbalances in electrolytes, thyroid disorders, infections, and fever, can trigger this condition.

While arrhythmias may occasionally result in symptoms like palpitations, chest discomfort, dizziness, or fainting, not all cases present noticeable signs. However, severe arrhythmias have the potential to impair the heart’s ability to efficiently pump blood, thereby heightening the risk of stroke or heart failure.

Treatment approaches encompass medications, lifestyle adjustments, or medical interventions aimed at restoring a regular heart rhythm.

Causes of Unhealthy Heart Rates

Underlying medical conditions such as coronary artery disease, heart valve disorders, and congenital heart defects can disrupt the heart’s normal rhythm and lead to abnormal heart rates.

External factors such as exposure to extreme temperatures can influence heart rate, with hypothermia causing a decrease in heart rate and heatstroke potentially leading to tachycardia (elevated heart rate condition).

Overexertion or overtraining during physical activity, particularly in athletes or individuals undergoing strenuous workouts, can also contribute to tachycardia due to insufficient rest and recovery.

Additionally, dehydration and imbalances in electrolytes like potassium and sodium have been identified in studies as factors that can disturb heart rhythm, resulting in abnormal heart rates.

Identifying When to Seek Medical Attention

If you experience any of these symptoms, seek medical attention promptly: Persistent or recurrent chest pain or discomfort, severe shortness of breath, fainting or loss of consciousness, rapid or irregular heartbeat, severe dizziness or light-headedness, unexplained fatigue, or weakness.

Tips for Maintaining a Healthy Heart Rate

To maintain a healthy heart rate, consider the following tips:

  • Regularly engage in physical activities to strengthen your heart and lower the resting heart rate. 
  • Staying hydrated supports cardiovascular health and helps maintain a steady heart rate.
  • Limit caffeine intake and quit smoking and other nicotine products to avoid elevating heart rate. 
  • Stress and anxiety may contribute to an increased heart rate. As such, try deep breathing, meditation, and yoga to manage stress.

Make an Appointment at Gleneagles Hospitals

Regular check-ups and monitoring of heart rate can play a vital role in identifying and addressing potential issues before they escalate into abnormal or unhealthy conditions.

Get in touch with us to book an appointment today to consult with our Cardiology specialists, or find out more about our Cardiology Services at your nearest Gleneagles Hospital.

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