An unusually fast beating of the heart is called tachycardia. Medical professionals diagnosing a patient with this condition may say that the patient is "tachy." Normal heart rate for an adult is between 60 and 100 beats per minute. If the heart rate climbs above 100 beats per minute, the patient is said to be experiencing tachycardia.
Tachycardia is not always life threatening, but it can lead to serious and life threatening conditions. The two main categories are ventricular and supraventricular tachycardia, referring to the area of the heart where the problem occurs.
If the rapid heartbeat occurs in the ventricles, it is called ventricular tachycardia, or V-Tach. This can lead to ventricular fibrillation, a condition in which the ventricles beat so rapidly that they do not effectively pump blood. A patient in ventricular fibrillation can be shocked with a defibrillator in an effort to restore normal heart rhythm.
If the tachycardia starts in the upper part of the heart, above the ventricles, the condition is called supraventricular tachycardia. Also referred to as SVT, this is the more common variety, and isn't generally considered dangerous as long as it lasts for only a few seconds. If it lasts for an extended period of time, or occurs frequently, it may indicate a serious problem, and the sufferer should seek medical treatment.
Tachycardia can have many causes, including medications, low blood pressure, a quick change in position from reclining to upright, or damage or disease of the heart or lungs. Treatment often begins by looking for the underlying cause of the rapid heartbeat and treating that problem. This, in turn, usually restores the heart to its natural rhythm.
If other treatments do not work, a medical professional may give a patient medication to correct the rapid heartbeat. In more severe cases, a device called an implantable cardioverter defibrillator is used. This helps a patient with frequent tachycardia by monitoring the heart rate and applying a small electrical shock when necessary to keep the patient's heart beating normally.