As long as one is working, eating, doing their daily activities and sleeping, their heart is continually and imperceptibly working. It throbs at a frequency of 100,000 beats per day, 37 million beats a year, and about 3 billion beats in a human lifetime.
However, its activity is not always uniform. It is sometimes likely that the heart rate will increase for no apparent reason. Maybe from time to time, you will feel palpitations or how your heart jumps. When this happens, you ask yourself, “Is this normal?”
At first glance, this question seems to be rather rudimentary, but in practice, it’s not, especially if you are not aware of at least the most essential facts about heartbeat and rhythm. Below are the five common and prevalent misconceptions, as well as the truth about them.
Myth #1: An irregular heartbeat means that you have a heart attack
This is almost never the case. It’s even quite normal sometimes to feel your heart skip or beat irregularly. If you keep track of each person’s heartbeat for a long time, you will notice that his heart sometimes jumps or shortens further.
In the absence of accompanying symptoms (pain behind the sternum or shortness of breath), these phenomena mean nothing. If the feeling of jump or palpitations is new to you or has increased in recent times, it may indicate the presence of an irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia).
A majority of arrhythmias are relatively harmless. This does not mean, however, that they must be ignored entirely.
Some types of irregular heartbeats may expose you to an increased risk of heart attack, heart arrest, or sudden death. Therefore, it is essential to inform your family doctor about your irregular heartbeat, especially if it is new or the relapse becomes more frequent.
Cardiac arrhythmias are more frequent and, fortunately, have a better prognosis, whereas others are more dangerous.
The most common atrial arrhythmia is fibrillation, which increases the likelihood of an additional heart attack. Atrial fibrillation can be demonstrated by conducting an electrocardiogram (ECG).
Myth #2: A fast heartbeat means you are under high stress
Stress can really speed up your heart rate, forcing your heart to beat more than 100 times a minute – a condition called tachycardia. But smoking or consuming caffeine can also cause increased heart rate, as well as dehydration, high temperature, anemia, and thyroid disease.
Anyone who experiences tachycardia without a specific reason should consult a doctor. Even heart rate values around the upper limit of normal can be disturbing.
Practice shows that a heart rate above 85 beats per minute in a calm state may be a sign of a more severe health condition. Also, the cause of tachycardia is often the arrhythmic activity of the heart.
In some cases, the cardiac activity may increase to 200 beats per minute, then symptoms such as shortness of breath, chest pain, dizziness, and pallor may become present. When the heart rate rises above 130 beats per minute for a long time, the pumping function of the heart is weakened.
The good news is that this loss stops after a regular heart rate. Usually, this is achieved with drug therapy or procedures in which the heart reaches a high-voltage shortwave current. Some patients even require the destruction of small areas of the heart tissue where the arrhythmic heartbeat originates from.
Myth #3: A healthy heart at a calm state beats at a frequency of 60 to 100 beats per minute
Correct! This is the standard heart rate for adults. But the upper incidence of this interval may hide an increased risk of severe health problems.
A large number of studies have shown that a persistent heart rate (even at the upper limit of normal) increases the risk for the following diseases:
- Ischemic heart disease
- Heart attack
- Sudden cardiac death
Recently, a group of Norwegian scientists has found that each heart rate increase of 10 strokes ups the risk of heart attack – 18% in women and 10% in males.
Also, a recent Japanese study suggests that a heart rate higher than 80 beats per minute at rest is associated with a higher risk of obesity and heart disease in the future. On the other hand, diabetes and obesity are risk factors for poor heart health.
These studies do not prove that a high heart rate at rest causes heart attack, obesity, or diabetes, but in combination with other risk factors, it can lead to some predisposition.
Still, what are the optimal values of the heart rate and when does it pose a risk to our health? There is still no consensus, but most doctors agree with the fact that a heart rate above 90 beats per minute is not safe.
To determine your heart rate at rest, hold your pointer and the middle finger in the area of the lower wrist under the thumb on the other hand. Press gently to feel a pulse. Count the strokes for one minute or 30 seconds, and then multiply them by two. To be at rest, make sure you have a full 10-minute break before the measurement.
Myth # 4: A slow heart rate is characteristic of a weak heart
Many people think that if their heart rate is low, then they are on the verge of their hearts completely stopping. In fact, it’s just the opposite.
The heart is a muscle and, like any other, it is hypertrophic and becomes stronger in regular physical activity. The stronger the heart, the more effective its operation. For each abbreviation, it pushes a larger volume of blood and therefore requires fewer strokes per minute.
That’s why a heart with a resting frequency below 60 (a condition called bradycardia) is likely to be more healthy and robust. For example, well-trained athletes usually have a heart rate of between 40 and 60 beats per minute.
In fact, a slow heartbeat, which does not cause other complaints, is not a cause for concern.
However, bradycardia in adults may be a sign of heart disease. Some medications, including beta-blockers and other cardiovascular drugs, can also cause heart failure. Symptoms of bradycardia include fatigue, dizziness, and pallor.
Myth #5: Since my heart rate is reasonable, my blood pressure should also be normal
There is no correlation between heart rate and blood pressure.
One can have a regular heart rate at rest and still suffer from high blood pressure. In other cases, the pathological heart rate is accompanied by normal blood pressure. Tiredness can increase the heart rate at a fraction of the time until the blood pressure is reduced to a small extent.