In adults, a typical resting heart rate is 60–80 beats per minute (bpm). This rate can rise or fall due to structural or electrical disorders of the heart. Changes may also be due to certain behavioral or environmental factors.

An irregular heart rhythm can cause the heart rate to jump between high and low in a condition called arrhythmia, or dysrhythmia. This can be alarming, but it does not always result in severe health complications.

Nonetheless, if a person suspects anomalies in the rhythm of their heart rate, they should contact a doctor for a diagnosis.

This article will examine several possible causes of a heart rate that is jumping up and down, beginning with some structural and electrical disorders of the heart. It will also detail some possible behavioral and environmental causes, such as stress and dehydration, and explain when a person should contact a doctor.

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Tachycardia means that an adult’s heart rate is over 100 bpm.

Learn about what a person’s heart rate should be here.

There are several types of tachycardia. The sections below will look at some of these in more detail.

Sinus tachycardia

In sinus tachycardia, the heart rate increases but continues to beat properly in the normal rhythm.

Sinus tachycardia occurs when the heart rate increases due to expected reasons, such as during exercise, if a person is feeling anxious, or during periods of dehydration.

Inappropriate sinus tachycardia, which is rare, occurs when the heart rate increases for no apparent reason. It could be the result of a nerve signaling problem in the heart.

Learn more about the types of sinus tachycardia here.

Supraventricular tachycardia

Supraventricular tachycardia occurs when there is a disruption to the electrical signal.

This disruption prevents the heartbeat from originating in the sinoatrial node (which creates sinus rhythm) and instead causes it to originate in another part of the top chamber of the heart.

The word supraventricular means that the arrhythmia originates from the top chamber of the heart. The word tachycardia means that it results in a heartbeat that is higher than 100 bpm.

Symptoms

Supraventricular tachycardia may cause symptoms such as:

However, there may be no symptoms at all.

It is rare that supraventricular tachycardia results in sudden death, but this can happen if the heart rate gets too fast.

Treatment

According to one 2020 study, a person with supraventricular tachycardia who wishes to slow down their heart rate can try several types of Valsalva maneuver.

To try the most well-known type of Valsalva maneuver, a person should bear down, as if they were passing a bowel movement, for 10–15 seconds.

However, if this method does not work, they could try the following other types:

  • coughing
  • immersing themselves or just their face in cold water
  • blowing on their thumb (in children) or into an empty syringe

Atrial fibrillation (A-fib) results from complex waves in the upper and lower chambers of the heart causing an irregular heartbeat. It is a common arrhythmia.

Symptoms

A person with A-fib may experience:

According to some studies, females with A-fib are more likely to experience symptoms than males.

Treatment

Treatment for A-fib may include:

  • taking blood thinning medications, such as:
  • undergoing surgery, such as:
    • an ablation procedure
    • pacemaker surgery with a nodal ablation procedure
    • an open-heart maze procedure, wherein a surgeon creates scar tissue in the heart to affect electrical impulses

Learn more about A-fib here.

Conduction disorders, specifically heart block, can cause a disruption to the electrical signals that enable the heart to pump blood to the body and the lungs.

This disruption affects the rhythm and rate of the heartbeat, and, as a result, the heart may not pump the amount of blood necessary for the body to function.

Symptoms

According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, a person with heart block may experience the following symptoms:

Treatment

Treatment will vary depending on the type of heart block a person has. It may include taking medications — such as atropine, glycopyrrolate, or antiarrhythmics — or undergoing surgery, such as pacemaker surgery.

If a person does not consume enough water, their body may become dehydrated.

Symptoms

Dehydration can affect a person’s mental and physical function, including their heart rate.

According to a 2019 review, some other immediate symptoms of dehydration may include:

  • decreased exercise performance
  • decreased thinking abilities
  • mood changes
  • fatigue

In the short term, according to the same review, dehydration can cause an increase in heart rate for the following reasons:

  • It can affect the function of the endothelium, which is the lining within the heart and blood vessels.
  • It can affect the sympathetic nervous system, causing changes in breathing and heart rate.
  • It can affect the body’s ability to regulate blood pressure. A person may notice this if they feel lightheaded when standing up.

If a person is dehydrated over a long period of time, their risk of developing problems such as heart disease increases.

Treatment

As well as drinking water, a person can boost their water intake by eating plenty of fruits and vegetables.

Learn about how much water a person should drink per day here.

If symptoms of dehydration occur, oral rehydration solutions can provide electrolytes quickly, enabling fast absorption. Sachets of oral rehydrate are available at most chemists.

If these methods do not provide relief and the symptoms become severe, a hospital can provide intravenous fluids.

Certain drugs can affect the heart rate and cause the rhythm to jump between high and low beat rates.

Some types of medication that can cause tachycardia include:

A person with A-fib should be cautious if taking the following medications:

  • antiarrhythmics, including:
    • adenosine
    • amiodarone
    • flecainide
    • propafenone
  • HER2/neu receptor blockers, which help treat cancer
  • certain antidepressants, such as fluoxetine

According to the National Health Service (NHS), sleep deprivation can have negative effects on heart rate and blood pressure.

Symptoms

Getting enough rest is important for the body to function properly. Some symptoms of sleep deprivation include:

The NHS add that getting insufficient sleep may increase a person’s risk of developing conditions such as high blood pressure and obesity.

Sleep deprivation can also lead to problems such as A-fib.

Treatment

Adopting the following habits may contribute to better sleep:

  • reducing caffeine intake
  • developing a set bedtime routine
  • getting enough physical activity during the day

Interactions between the heart and brain cause the body to respond to certain emotions, such as anger, depressed mood, and stress. Response levels differ from person to person.

According to one 2014 article, negative emotions cause a disproportionate amount of activity in the right side of the brain. To account for this, the heart must change the way it beats, causing disproportionate or extra beats. This makes the electrical signals unstable and, as a result, can trigger arrhythmia.

Symptoms

Stress can cause a range of physical and mental symptoms, including:

Treatment

Managing stress can be important in reducing the risk of developing arrhythmia. Stress relief and relaxation techniques, such as meditation, can be effective forms of treatment.

If the rate or rhythm of the heartbeat becomes irregular or is causing distressing symptoms, it is important to seek medical attention.

Even if there does not appear to be any danger, a doctor can provide assistance in reducing the risk of complications.

If a person is experiencing the following symptoms, all of which are symptoms of a heart attack, someone needs to call 911:

  • chest pain
  • shortness of breath
  • dizziness
  • a feeling of impending doom
  • pain in the following places:
    • neck
    • one or both arms
    • back
    • jaw
    • stomach

Different conditions and factors can cause the heart rate to jump up or down. The medical term for this cardiac anomaly is arrhythmia.

Biological factors can affect the structural and electrical functions of the heart, but other risk factors include dehydration, certain medications, lack of sleep, and stress.

Some people experience heart rate fluctuations for years, and for other people, the symptoms never go away.

Arrhythmia does not always cause serious health problems, but seeking medical advice is important in reducing the risk of developing complications.