Sinus Tachycardia: The Racing Heart

If you suffer from anxiety, you may experience a sudden racing of your heart accompanied by feelings of anguish. This might even lead you to wonder if you're having a heart attack. Tachycardias are a typical symptom of this condition. What causes them and what can be done about them?
Sinus Tachycardia: The Racing Heart

Last update: 27 February, 2022

Palpitations, feelings of suffocation, a sense that your heart is racing for no good reason … Many people experience sinus tachycardia at some point. It’s a situation of high anguish in which you may even think that you’re having a heart attack.

These cases are frequently seen in hospital emergency rooms. In fact, anxiety can present certain clinical symptoms that are as complex as they’re diverse. There’s also research that describes the link between anxiety and the state of activation that occurs with a heart rate that exceeds 100 beats per minute.

Nevertheless, despite its impact, sinus tachycardia isn’t serious. It usually involves around ten minutes of discomfort and a feeling of alarm that rarely goes any further. On the other hand, there are two aspects that should always be considered.

The first is to rule out any other underlying conditions or diseases. The second is to learn to manage stressful times and problems so that they don’t lead to chronic states of anxiety that, in the long run, can take their toll on your health.

Person keeping a heart in his pocket representing anxiety tachycardia

Sinus tachycardia: Causes, characteristics, and strategies

The cause of sinus tachycardia lies in the emotional turmoil itself. Furthermore, there’s never just one reason for the orchestration of any anxiety disorder. Sometimes, a kaleidoscope of causes is intermingled. For instance, genetic factors, the way of filtering and processing reality since adolescence, self-demand, lifestyle, etc.

Consequently, there are many triggers and infinite ways in which you might experience anxiety. For instance, there’s adaptive and maladaptive anxiety, anxiety caused by specific events such as speaking in public, and chronic anxiety. This kind becomes integrated into generalized anxiety disorder. Unfortunately, it doesn’t tend to be treated particularly effectively.

For example, if you suffer from this disorder, you might often resort to the traditionally prescribed benzodiazepines. However, these only mask your symptoms and don’t solve the original problem or provide you with skills to face your day-to-day life. Hence, you feel imprisoned by your symptoms. This is the case with sinus tachycardia. Let’s find out a bit more.

What happens and why?

With sinus tachycardia, your heartbeat exceeds 100 beats per minute (a healthy heartbeat is between 60 and 100). In addition, you experience other organic symptoms such as:

  • Feeling as if you have a stitch in your chest.
  • A strong and irregular heartbeat.
  • Feeling as if you’re suffocating.
  • Feeling dizzy or lightheaded.
  • Having a dry mouth.

Sinus tachycardia occurs as a result of an excess of adrenaline. Usually, you reach a state where there’s an excessive accumulation of your emotions. These generate adrenaline and other hormones that react at a given moment. They also react in response to the activation that’s causing your anxiety. This is in order to help you respond to a risk or threat (which, in many cases, doesn’t even exist).

Your bloodstream is flooded with adrenaline and your heart races. You sometimes even hyperventilate. This happens when you expel too much carbon dioxide and take in too much oxygen.

Heart with a phonendoscope

Is sinus tachycardia serious?

As we mentioned earlier, sinus tachycardia isn’t serious. In fact, more than a problem in itself, it should be seen as a symptom that there’s an underlying problem, something that needs attention. Dr. Christopher Celano and his colleagues conducted research that demonstrated an important finding in this regard.

They found that, in general, the most serious cases of this disorder appear in people who already have previous heart problems. In fact, about 11 percent of people with cardiovascular disease develop generalized anxiety disorder. Patients who’ve suffered a heart attack or who suffer from a heart condition also end up suffering from anxiety about the disease itself.

However, there’s no evidence that healthy people who suffer from anxiety end up suffering from serious cardiovascular disorders. Nor does sinus tachycardia end up leading to something more serious.

On the other hand, there’s one fact that should be taken into account. This is the fact that chronic anxiety, the kind that’s continued for more than five years, can put excessive stress on the heart. This can cause hypertension or vasoconstriction.

Avoiding sinus tachycardia

Palpitations, insomnia, gastrointestinal problems, muscle pain, tiredness… Anxiety is a bad life partner. Sometimes, even when you feel like everything’s under control and you’re in a relaxed situation, like watching TV, tachycardia can suddenly arise or, more commonly, an anxiety attack.

You shouldn’t allow this state to become chronic. It’s important to go to your doctor so that they can rule out any organic disease or heart problem. Later, you might want to go to a psychologist. Cognitive-behavioral therapy is the most effective in treating this disorder.

With this kind of therapy, you assume greater control of your thoughts and emotions. Consequently, you’re able to change your habits, both mental and behavioral. On the other hand, comorbidity must also be taken into account. That’s because it’s common that, along with anxiety, depression also appears.

The help of a specialized professional is a given in all these cases. With good therapy and changes in your coping habits, you’ll be able to live better.

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  • Christopher M. Celano , Daniel J. Daunis , M. Anxiety disorders and cardiovascular disease, Psychiatry. PMC 2016 Nov; 18(11): 101. doi: 10.1007/s11920-016-0739-5