CONTENT UPDATED, May, 2018 – L.J. Frieders
Right after birth, a person has a heart rate around 159 bpm (beats per minute). By the late teen years that number falls to around 100, and stays in that range for the rest of their life. Stress and exercise and cause this number to climb, but it should fall back to the normal range shortly after the stress is removed.
On occasion, a person’s heart rate will jump up for a brief time – a few seconds to several minutes. The causes of these sudden increases are not always evident. They just seem to happen. It might be a response to an external stimulus or merely a genetic predisposition. Most people experience some level of “uncaused” high heart rate and some never have the experience.
A rate of 205 bpm is not in itself a dangerous situation. It can become harmful if it doesn’t subside – which it usually does on its own within a few minutes. Medical intervention is rarely necessary. Doctors have a number of approaches to stopping the “runaway” heartbeats and it may be necessary to start treatment with medication if the beating speeds up frequently. The most common medicine prescribed is in a category called beta-blockers. Propranolol, metoprolol, and atenolol are three beta-blockers that have been used safely for decades. While it is preferred to find the actual cause and fix it, that isn’t always possible.
What Can a Person Do if Stricken with a Very Rapid Heart Rate?
The beating heart can be slowed by stimulating the vagus nerve. This doesn’t happen just when the heart is beating very rapidly. Stimulating of the vagus can also slow a normal heart rate. Therefore, don’t overdo it.
How Do You Stimulate the Vagus Nerve?
The vagus nerve is also called the pneumogastric nerve (lungs and stomach) or cranial nerve. The nerves are referred to as afferent, meaning that they transmit information to the brain through many of the internal organs.
The vagus nerve bundle travels all over the body (that’s why it’s sometimes called the Wanderer). We have access to our vagus nerves at the carotid arteries and behind our eyes. Applying gentle pressure over the left carotid artery, or directly on the eyeballs, sends a stimulating impulse along the vagus nerve. The massaging tells the brain to slow the heart rate. The right vagus tends to increase heart rate. If you are ever uncertain about whether to massage the right or left, go ahead and do both. The overall effect is balancing and the heart will most likely return to a normal rhythm.
Hiccups seem to respond similarly to vagus stimulation. Scaring someone who is hiccupping is actually a stimulus to the vagus – and it can quiet the jumping reaction. Remember, the vagus is the nerve for the stomach, lungs, esophagus, and even the diaphragm. Things that work to lower heart rate are also efficient at breaking up a hiccupping episode – gentle massage of the vagus nerve under the right carotid or under the eyeballs. Remember, though, always be gentle. More pressure is not always better, and it could cause damage.