In adults, a typical resting heart rate is 60–100 beats per minute, but structural or electrical disorders of the heart can cause it to rise or fall. Medications, a lack of sleep, and stress may also affect heart rate.

A person’s heart rate may be lower when they are sleeping or higher during exercise.

However, some people have an irregular heart rhythm that causes their heart rate to jump between high and low. This condition is called arrhythmia, or dysrhythmia. It 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 possible behavioral and environmental causes, such as stress and dehydration, and explain when a person should contact a doctor.

a person is checking their heart rate monitor watch against their appShare on Pinterest
d3sign/Getty Images

Tachycardia means that an adult’s heart rate is over 100 beats per minute (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 can happen when there is a problem with the heart’s electrical circuit or a heartbeat originates in the atrium outside of the sinus node.

This prevents the heartbeat from originating in the sinoatrial node, which creates sinus rhythm. Instead, it 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.


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.


According to the American Heart Association, 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 can 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 erratic signals in the upper chambers of the heart, causing an irregular heartbeat. It is a common arrhythmia.


A person with A-fib may experience:

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


Treatment for A-fib may include:

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.


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


Treatment will vary depending on the type of heart block a person has. For milder forms of heart block, a person may only need monitoring by a cardiologist. People with higher degrees of heart block will need a pacemaker.

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


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 include:

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

In the short term, according to the same review, dehydration may 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.


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 arrhythmia include:

Sleep deprivation, sleep disorders, and lack of good quality sleep can have negative effects on heart health.


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

  • fatigue
  • irritability
  • difficulty concentrating
  • diabetes
  • inflammation

Insufficient sleep may increase the risk of developing conditions such as high blood pressure and obesity.

Sleep deprivation may also contribute to A-fib, but doctors need more research to confirm this.


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 emotions, such as anger, depressed mood, and stress. Response levels differ from person to person.

Emotional or physical stress can lead to:

  • a faster heart rate
  • a rise in blood pressure
  • a release of stress hormones

As a result, the heart has to work harder. In some people, this can increase the risk of arrhythmia, a heart attack, and other heart-related health issues.

Females appear to be more susceptible than males. Taking measures to manage stress can help reduce the risk of heart-related complications.


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


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 for chronic stress.

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

When should I worry about my heart rate spikes?

A person may experience small or slight jumps in heart rate due to factors like stress, exercise, changing positions, and some foods.

However, if a person’s heart rate regularly reaches over 100 bpm with no apparent cause, it feels irregular, they experience high spikes in their heart rate, or they notice any other symptoms alongside the high heart rate, they should seek medical attention.

Here are some questions people often ask about changes in heart rate.

Why has my resting heart rate increased suddenly?

Paroxysmal supraventricular tachycardia (PSVT) can cause a person’s heart rate to spike suddenly, then return abruptly to the usual rate. There are many possible causes and triggers, including anxiety, caffeine, nicotine, and the use of various prescription and recreational drugs. A wide range of health conditions can lead to PSVT, such as hypothyroidism, some types of heart disease, lung disease, and pulmonary embolism. It can be a sign of low oxygen levels.

What should I do if my heart rate suddenly spikes while resting?

If a person notices a sudden spike in their heart rate that does not appear to have any cause, such as stress or certain foods, contact a doctor. If a person notices any other symptoms alongside a sudden spike in their heart rate, such as dizziness, chest pain, shortness of breath, or pain in the neck, arms, back, jaw, or stomach, seek emergency medical attention.

What is a fluctuating heart rate?

When a person has a fluctuating heart rate, they may feel as if their heart rate is jumping up and down. Instead of following a regular pattern, the heart rhythm changes within a short time. This is called arrhythmia.

A range of heart problems can cause an irregular heart rate. Anyone who notices fluctuating heart rate should seek medical advice. A doctor will do some tests and work with them on a treatment plan.

Is arrhythmia serious?

Many people live with arrhythmia, and by 2030, experts foresee that atrial fibrillation — the main cause of arrhythmia — will affect over 12 million people in the United States. Treatment can help manage arrhythmia so that people can continue to live their daily lives. Without treatment, however, it increases the risk of cardiac arrest, heart failure, stroke, and other complications.

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.