Tachycardia in pregnancy: causes, symptoms and treatment

Who I am
Philippe Gloaguen
@philippegloaguen
Author and references

Contents

  • 1 What is tachycardia 
  • 2 Symptoms of tachycardia 
  • 3 Tachycardia in pregnancy 
  • 4 Tachycardia in pregnancy: the physiological causes 
  • 5 Tachycardia in pregnancy: the pathological causes
  • 6 Diagnosis of tachycardia in pregnancy
  • 7 Treatment of tachycardia in pregnancy
  • 8 Tachycardia in pregnancy: when to worry 

The beats that suddenly accelerate. The heart that seems to rumble even in the ears. A strange sensation that runs through the whole body. It could be tachycardia, a disorder that is quite common in pregnancy. In most cases it is not a health problem, but sometimes it is a sign of something wrong. This is why it is important to know and be able to identify tachycardia in pregnancy. We guide you. 



What is tachycardia 

Tachycardia refers to an increase in resting heart rate. When on the move, particularly if we are exercising or climbing stairs quickly, it is normal for our heart rates to go up. The average heart rate while at rest is between 60 and 100 beats per minute. We speak of tachycardia when this threshold is exceeded while no effort is being made.

An episodic tachycardia and under certain circumstances need not worry. When doing sports, under stressful conditions, if you have a fever, your heart beats accelerate, and then return to normal when you relax or as soon as the temperature returns to normal. When this occurs while resting and for a prolonged period, it is advisable to notify the doctor.

Symptoms of tachycardia 

The main sign of tachycardia is the palpitations that occur while one is in a normal situation of rest and tranquility. They can be associated with other symptoms such as dizziness, fatigue, difficulty breathing, swollen legs or feet, chest pain. 



Tachycardia in pregnancy 

When you're expecting a baby, it's not unusual to experience tachycardia at any time. For example, it can happen already in the first trimester of pregnancy, when the blood volume increases significantly and the heart is forced to "work harder" to pump blood throughout the body. In the third trimester of pregnancy, on the other hand, there are various factors that contribute to the onset of tachycardia, from increased weight (also in this case the heart has to work harder) to anxiety about the imminent birth. 

There are two types of causes for tachycardia in pregnancy: physiological and pathological. Let's see the differences. 

Tachycardia in pregnancy: the physiological causes 

When pregnancy begins, the whole organism has to adapt to the changes that affect practically all systems, including the cardiovascular system. The greater volume of blood is essential for both the well-being of the mother and that of the fetus. However, it involves an extra work of the heart, which tries to compensate by increasing the beats. 

All this also implies an increase in oxygen consumption, with a consequent reduction in hemoglobin. And from here to tachycardia in pregnancy the transition is fast. 

Other physiological causes of heart rate acceleration with a baby bump are: 

  • Weight gain.
  • Anxiety.
  • Stress.
  • Excessive consumption of exciting substances, such as caffeine and theine. Remember that, especially the former, it is not only found in coffee, but also in cola-based drinks or chocolate. Among the stimulants there are also smoking and drugs, but we absolutely assume that you have abandoned them as soon as you have seen the pregnancy test positive. 

Tachycardia in pregnancy: the pathological causes

  • Low blood pressure: A hypotensive crisis can cause tachycardia and be accompanied by other symptoms, such as feeling faint, sweating, nausea, malaise. Low blood pressure is typical in the early part of pregnancy due to vasodilation and can be accentuated by certain situations, such as heat or stress. 
  • Anemia: Iron deficiency is a potential cause of tachycardia in pregnancy. Iron carries oxygen in the blood. When the iron is reduced (it is needed by both the mother and the baby, which is why it takes so much), the oxygen also decreases and the heart struggles more and pumps faster. 
  • Thyroid dysfunction: During pregnancy, the thyroid gland undergoes a great deal of work, particularly due to its involvement in fetal development. Even if he has never suffered from it before, some thyroid problems can appear during gestation. An increase in thyroid function (hyperthyroidism) causes, among other things, tachycardia. 
  • Heart disease: Some heart problems, already present before pregnancy, can lead to an increase in heart rate. 

Diagnosis of tachycardia in pregnancy

Although, as we have said, tachycardia in pregnancy should not be particularly alarming, if the sudden palpitations cause discomfort or create agitation, it is advisable to consult your doctor. Diagnosis is based on observation of the patient and some tests may be required. If the suspicion is that of a thyroid malfunction, a blood test will be needed to evaluate some specific thyroid hormones. Same thing if an anemia problem is assumed. 



Another test that is performed is the electrocardiogram which is a heart rate trace able to evaluate any abnormalities, such as arrhythmias or fibrillation (these are the pathological forms of tachycardia). To get an accurate picture, the doctor may decide to perform the Holter. It is a device that records the heart rate for 24 hours, in order to evaluate the heart function for a whole day. 


Treatment of tachycardia in pregnancy

If the tachycardia occurs from time to time and the reason is one of what we have defined as physiological (therefore connected to the state of pregnancy), it is not necessary to intervene in any way. When, on the other hand, therapy is needed, it will depend on the triggering cause. 

  • Anemia: it will be necessary to get more iron, both through foods that are rich in it, and through supplements by mouth. 
  • Thyroid dysfunction: it may be useful to regulate the level of thyroid hormones through drugs that are compatible with pregnancy. 
  • Anxiety: a walk, some good music, a book, a yoga or autogenic training course will help you dispel the thoughts that… make your heart beat faster. 
  • Low blood pressure: Always have something sweet on hand, especially if you are in early pregnancy. A fruit jelly or licorice candy will cheer you up a bit. 
  • Arrhythmias: if the cause of the tachycardia is of cardiac origin (for example, if there is atrial fibrillation) specific drugs are required. Again the doctor will find those that can be taken during pregnancy without causing problems for the unborn baby.

Tachycardia in pregnancy: when to worry 

Tachycardia in pregnancy should be reported to the doctor when it is persistent and bothersome. It will be his task to try to trace the causes and, above all, decide how to treat it. 


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