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Heart Disease Health Center

5 Heart Rate Myths Debunked

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Myth No. 2: A fast pulse means you’re stressed out.

Stress can spike your resting heart rate, sometimes nudging it to beat more than 100 times per minute, a condition called tachycardia. But smoking or consuming lots of caffeine can also do the trick. So can dehydration, fever, anemia, and thyroid disease.

In the absence of an obvious cause, anyone who experiences tachycardia at rest should consult a doctor. Even heart rates in the upper range of normal may signal a health issue. "If you don’t have a good explanation for a [resting heart] rate above 85, that should dictate a search for something else," Tomaselli says. "Most of the time, tachycardia is caused by an abnormal heart rhythm," says Joseph E. Marine, MD, associate professor of cardiology at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore.

Some cases of tachycardia send the heart rate soaring – to well over 200 beats per minute -- bringing on symptoms including shortness of breath, chest pain, dizziness, and fainting.

"Over a long period of time, a [resting heart] rate of 130 or higher can cause the heart’s squeezing function to weaken," says Richard L. Page, MD, chairman of the department of medicine at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health in Madison, Wis. and president of the Heart Rhythm Society. "The good news is that that weakening can resolve when you get heart rate under control." Often that’s accomplished via drug therapy or procedures that deliver an electrical shock to the heart. Some patients require targeted destruction of the tiny areas of heart tissue in which the arrhythmias originate to fix the problem.

Myth No. 3: A healthy resting heart rate is between 60 and 100 beats per minute.

True, that's a normal heart rate range for adults. But the upper end of that range may mean a greater chance of serious health problems.

"A number of studies have shown that, even within the normal range, a high resting heart rate is associated with an increased risk for ischemic heart disease, stroke, and sudden cardiac death," Tomaselli says. 

Norwegian researchers recently reported that for every 10-beat rise in resting heart rate, the risk of dying from a heart attack rose by 18% in women and by 10% in men. And a recent Japanese study showed that a resting heart rate higher than 80 beats per minute was associated with a greater risk of becoming obese or developing heart disease decades later. Diabetes and obesity are both risky for the heart.

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