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Why is my heart racing?

Considering the incredible job your heart does – keeping you alive by pumping blood to provide your body with the oxygen and nutrients it needs – you probably don’t often think about how hard it works every second of the day. To be precise, your heart beats from 60 to 100 beats a minute. That’s between 86,400 and 144,00 beats a day. If your heart beats more than 100 times per minute, it’s known as tachycardia. It might sound serious, but it’s unlikely to be a sign of a heart attack.

Stress

When stress triggers the release of hormones like adrenaline or cortisol, they drive up heart rate and blood pressure, which results in an elevated pulse, explains cardiologist, Dr Adam Splaver. This is a normal response to stress and resolves itself once the stress is dealt with. Try relaxation exercises, deep breathing, yoga, and tai chi to quell your anxiety.

Too many stimulants

Stimulants like caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, and medicines for ADHD can also increase blood pressure and give you a racing heart. If these are triggers for you, stick to a healthy diet and limit your intake of caffeine. Healthdirect Australia recommends that healthy adults consume no more than 400 milligrams of caffeine a day – the equivalent of four cups of coffee, 10 cans of soft-drink, or two energy drinks.

Dehydration

When you are dehydrated, what’s known as your effective blood volume decreases, which can lower blood pressure and in some cases, raise it. Either way, it can increase the strain on your heart as the muscle tries to compensate. To recover from dehydration, stop what you are doing and rest in a cool place, such as in the shade or an air-conditioned room.

Put your feet up, remove extra items of clothing, and drink water, juice, or a sports drink to replace fluids and minerals. Drink two large glasses of cool water over the next two to four hours and continue to drink plenty of fluids in the next 24 hours.

Anxiety

Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in Australia, according to the Black Dog Institute, affecting an estimated 20 per cent of adults. Anxiety increases stress hormones that increase heart rate and blood pressure, explains Splaver.

Lack of sleep

One common cause of a racing heart is poor sleep. Lack of sleep increases stress hormones, which drive up your heart rate and blood pressure. The Sleep Health Foundation recommends seven to nine hours of sleep per night for adults.

Pain

According to an article published in Mayo Clinical Proceedings, acute pain triggers a stress response that can lead to increased blood pressure, faster heart rate, dilated pupils, and higher blood levels of the stress hormone, cortisol. Whether the pain is caused by a fracture, a sprain, an open wound, a burn, or a condition like appendicitis or pancreatitis, treating the underlying cause should return the heart to its normal rate.

Pregnancy

During pregnancy, a woman’s heart is under increased demands due to the needs of the foetus. According to an article published in the Merck Manual, by the end of pregnancy, the uterus is receiving one-fifth of a mother’s blood supply, and cardiac output (the amount of blood pumped by the heart) increases by 30 to 50 per cent. This results in a pregnancy heart rate of 80 to 90 beats per minute, and it’s usually perfectly normal. If you have any concerns, however, make an appointment with your ob-gyn to get the all-clear.

Thyroid problems

Your thyroid gland pumps out a variety of hormones that control and direct your major organs. Insufficient thyroid hormones (hypothyroidism) can slow your heart rate, while excess thyroid hormones (hyperthyroidism) increase your heart rate. A wide range of medications are available to treat hyperthyroidism; beta-blockers can be prescribed specifically to deal with a quick heart rate.

Cold or fever

If you have signs of a cold or flu, like a high temperature, sneezing, and coughing, your heart rate may increase. This is because your body needs to work harder than usual to fight the infection. As soon as you the cold passes, your heart rate should return to normal.

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