Racing Heartbeat: Should You See a Doctor?

My heart was beating really fast, but I don’t have symptoms now. Should I see a doctor?

If you’ve asked yourself this question, then you’ve probably noticed your heart skipping a beat, fluttering, or just feeling like it’s working too hard inside your chest, neck, or throat.

Everyone has a racing heart from time to time. Stress, exercise, or even too much alcohol or caffeine can cause your heart to beat faster than normal.

But if your heart races a lot—or if you notice your heartbeat is often irregular—then you should see a doctor.

Even though most racing heartbeats are caused by common situations (like stress or fevers), some irregular heartbeats are caused by serious heart conditions like atrial fibrillation. People who have these conditions need monitoring and treatment from a cardiologist (heart doctor).


doctor speaking with patient

What Causes a Racing Heart?

Normal hearts beat 60—100 times every minute. When your heart beats more than 100 times each minute, that’s considered high (called tachycardia in the medical world). Fast heartbeats can last for seconds to hours.

Not all cases of a racing heartbeat are dangerous. Many everyday situations that aren’t related to heart problems can cause your heart to race. These can include the following:

  • heavy exercise
  • stress, fear, anxiety, or panic attacks
  • low blood sugar or low blood pressure
  • fevers, anemia, and dehydration
  • pregnancy or menstruation
  • too much alcohol, caffeine, or nicotine
  • illegal drugs like ecstasy, methamphetamines, or cocaine

If you notice that your heart is beating faster than normal, look for obvious explanations first:

  • Are you stressed out?
  • Have you had more caffeine than usual?
  • Is your blood sugar low?

You can also try keeping a diary of your symptoms and write down what you were doing before you started to notice your heart was beating fast. Recording when your heart rate goes up can help your doctor better pinpoint what’s causing it.

If you notice that your heart is racing a lot and you’re not exercising or stressed (for example), then you should think strongly about seeing a doctor.

Heart Diseases That Can Cause a Racing Heart

Sometimes a fast or irregular heartbeat can be a sign of a serious heart condition. These conditions include the following:

If your doctor thinks you may have one of these conditions, your doctor may give you an EKG, a chest X-ray, or an echocardiogram (echo test) to diagnose what’s wrong.

woman with a hand over her heart

Atrial Fibrillation

Atrial fibrillation is one of several heart conditions that can cause an irregular heartbeat. Also known as A-Fib or AF, atrial fibrillation causes your heart’s upper chambers (atria) to beat faster than normal. People with A-Fib have electrical signaling problems in the upper part of their heart.

Atrial Fibrillation & Strokes

Atrial fibrillation is a serious condition that can be life-threatening. As many as six million people in the US may have atrial fibrillation. But one in three people who have A-Fib don’t know they have it.

A-Fib may also increase your chances of having a stroke.

That’s because A-Fib’s irregular heartbeat lets blood pool inside the upper chambers of your heart. This pooled blood can cause blood clots, which can then travel out of your heart and into your brain, which causes a stroke.

If you think you may have A-Fib, it’s important to make an appointment with a cardiologist.

Arrhythmia

Arrhythmias also cause fast or irregular heartbeats, or can make your heart beat too slowly. Arrhythmias happen when the electrical signals inside your heart don’t happen when and how they should.

Atrial fibrillation is one type of arrhythmia.

When to Call a Doctor Right Away

Call your doctor or 911 right away if you have a fast or irregular heartbeat and you also have:

  • chest pain
  • fainting
  • dizziness
  • shortness of breath

These symptoms may be signs of a heart attack or stroke.

Next Steps

Many times, fast or irregular heartbeats are caused by normal life situations, like drinking too much caffeine or having anxiety.

But if you notice that your heart is beating quickly a lot, you should consider seeing a cardiologist to make sure you don’t have a dangerous, undiagnosed heart condition.

Make an appointment with a cardiologist.