Don't be so quick to write off that thumping in your chest as the result of too much coffee. A faster-than-usual heart rate can have a number of causes, including pushing too hard. "Overexercising often contributes to pain, dehydration, or electrolyte imbalances, all of which can lead to an increase in heart rate," says Kathryn Berlacher, MD, a cardiologist at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. If yours is higher than normal for an extended period (resting heart rates vary; the typical range is 60 to 100 beats per minute), you may need to dial things back. Giving yourself time to hydrate, replenish, recover, and repair lowers the demands on the heart.

Don't notice a decrease after adding more downtime? See a doctor to rule out other possible causes, such as an overactive thyroid, infection, or heart disease. 

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Read how a racing heartbeat can signal a bigger problem

Chris Woolston
February 29, 2016

The heart doesn't contract all at once. Instead, each section waits for its cue: an electrical signal that starts at the top of the right atrium and runs downward through the ventricles. As long as nothing disturbs that signal, the heart will beat at a mostly steady, healthy pace.

Damage to the heart—whether from an infection, an inherited condition, or a heart attack— can interfere with the electrical signal and throw the heart off its rhythm. This is arrythmia.

Almost any part of the heart is capable of starting the electricity that drives the beat, and the heart muscle may also immediately jury-rig a new source of electrical signals. These new signals may keep the heart beating, but they disrupt the normal pace or rhythm.

A racing heartbeat— ventricular tachycardia, it turns out—, sent Shannon Schroeder, 37, of Poulsbo, Wash., to the emergency room. It's a good thing she went.

An echocardiogram showed that the walls of her left ventricle were thicker than they should be, and the muscle showed telltale damage of an earlier silent heart attack. The damage had weakened her heart and harmed the electric circuitry that maintains a normal rhythm.

Stimulants—including caffeine, nicotine, and drugs—can also cause brief arrhythmias. They're usually harmless, but there are case reports of people dying from ventricular fibrillation after overdosing on controlled substances.

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