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5 Heart Rate Myths Debunked

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

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.

Those studies don't prove that a high resting heart rate caused heart attacks, obesity, or diabetes. But the findings held when the researchers considered other risk factors.

So how high is too high for a resting heart rate? There’s no absolute consensus about this, but most doctors agree that resting heart rates consistently in the upper range are not ideal.

"It is hard to set a precise cutoff for this risk factor, but usually a heart rate of 90 or above is considered abnormal and potentially deleterious," Javaid Nauman, a research fellow at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim, Norway, tells WebMD in an email. Nauman headed the Norwegian heart rate study, published online in the Journal of Epidemiology and Public Health on Jan. 11, 2010.

To find your resting heart rate, press the index and middle fingers over the underside of the opposite wrist, just below the thumb. Press down gently until you feel your pulse. Count the beats for one minute, or count for 30 seconds and multiply by two. To ensure an accurate reading, sit quietly for at least 10 minutes before taking your pulse.


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