Heart rate is the number of times a heart beats per minute (bpm). The human heart normally beats between 60 and 100 times per minute during rest, increasing to over 100 beats per minute during exercise.
So what heart rate signifies an emergency? The answer depends on the patient’s age, health, and gender.
What Heart Rate Matters
Heart rate data helps diagnose and monitor health conditions, such as high blood pressure or cardiac arrhythmias. Heart rate can also indicate how active or exhausted you are.
When it comes to emergencies, knowing your heart rate is critical. If something feels wrong with your body, like if you have a fever or chest pain, always check your heart rate first. If your heart rate is elevated above what’s considered normal and you also feel pain or shortness of breath, seek medical attention immediately!
Except when you are exercising or right after your gym routine, an elevated heart rate is normal. But feeling that your heart is beating faster than usual when you are at rest might also be a good reason to consult with your doctor.
Healthy Heart Rate at Rest
A normal resting heart rate for an adult human being is 60 to 100 beats per minute (bpm). When at rest, a healthy individual will have a heart rate in this range thanks to the activity of the parasympathetic nervous system on their sinus node.
On average, an adult has a systolic pressure above 120 mmHg when sitting quietly (blood pressure). You can feel the pulse at different locations on the body. If you put your fingers over your carotid artery in your neck, you should feel your pulse there too.
Healthy Heart Rate During Exercise
A heart rate above 100 bpm can be normal for athletes during exercise or for people with a healthy heart at rest. It also varies depending on your age and gender. For example, a 30-year-old male may have a resting heart rate of 65 bpm, while a 60-year-old female might have a resting heart rate of 85 bpm.
However, when not exercising, a heart rate above 100 beats per minute is considered an emergency according to the ACLS algorithm. It may be life-threatening if it continues. Heart disease and other conditions can cause the heart to beat too rapidly or irregularly.
Some people have a family history of heart problems, while others develop them later in life due to lifestyle choices like smoking or a poor diet. You should see your doctor for an evaluation if you have symptoms like chest pain (angina), dizziness, or fainting.
What Heart Rate is an Emergency for Heart Patients?
If you have experienced abnormal heart rhythms or other serious cardiac issues, your doctor may want you to monitor your resting pulse at home with an electrocardiogram (ECG) monitor. An ECG monitor records your heartbeat so that doctors can detect abnormal rhythms or changes in the electrical activity of your heartbeat (arrhythmia).
If you are a heart patient and your heart rate rises above 70 bpm, it is essential to seek medical attention as soon as possible. This number may seem low. But per the ACLS algorithm, your body is in danger at this level.
For heart health patients, the American Heart Association recommends that adults aged 18-54 have a resting heart rate below 70 bpm, and those 55 and older should aim for rates between 60-69 bpm. The lower rates are necessary to reduce their risk of complications from cardiovascular diseases.
When to Seek Emergency Help for a Speeding Heart Rate
If you experience a sudden and significant increase in your heart rate, it’s vital to seek emergency help. An elevated heart rate can signify a severe medical condition, such as stroke or cardiac arrest.
When should you call 911?
- If you experience chest pain that lasts more than 10 minutes
- Shortness of breath
- Weakness on one side of the body or confusion
Some of these symptoms may occur with exercise. However, if the person has other cardiovascular disease risk factors (such as high blood pressure or high cholesterol), it’s time to seek help.
Suppose heart conditions are not present and the heart rate increases by more than 50 beats per minute. If the increase is within 30 minutes from the onset of symptoms – even without physical activity – seek emergency services.
Bradycardia – When the Heart Rate Drops Lower than Normal
An extremely low heart rate is called bradycardia and is a medical emergency. When your heart rate drops below 40 bpm, it can prevent oxygen from reaching the brain and other vital organs. The resulting lack of oxygen can lead to serious health complications, including death.
If you experience any of the following signs and symptoms, it is crucial to seek medical attention as soon as possible:
- Feeling lightheaded or dizzy
- Rapid breathing or shortness of breath
- Pale skin (especially on the face)
- Unusual tiredness or weakness
- Confusion, agitation, or seizures
Maximum vs. Target Heart Rate
During exercise, you must understand your maximum vs. target heart rate. Health experts recommend that adults exercise at least 150 minutes per week.
Maximum heart rate
Maximum heart rate (MHR) is the highest amount your heart can pump blood out in one minute under normal circumstances. The average MHR for an adult male is about 170 beats per minute (bpm), while the average MHR for an adult female is about 185 bpm.
Your maximum heart rate is 220 minus your age. If you are 45, your MHR is 175 bpm; if you are 70, that should be 150. This number is the absolute limit to how much oxygen your heart can consume in a short time. The number represents only an estimate – not a guarantee – of when or how hard you might need to work out.
Target heart rate
Target heart rate (THR) refers to the number of beats you want your heart to reach on any particular day. It’s generally lower than your MHR but still represents a healthy level of exertion for most people.
The CDC recommends that healthy individuals who want to increase their fitness level work out at a target heart rate between 64% to 76% of their maximum heart rate. For a 45-year-old, the THR, in this case, would be 112 -133 bpm and 96 – 114 bpm for a 70-year-old.
This range corresponds with moderate intensity exercises. When working within this range, you will be using more fat as fuel than sugar which will help improve overall health and reduce inflammation throughout the body. The recommended high-intensity workout THR range is 77% to 93% of your MHR.
Exercise and Heart Patients
Heart patients should exercise regularly, but there is no need to overdo it. Exercising at a moderate intensity at least three times a week can help improve heart health.
Additionally, regular aerobic activity has been shown to lower blood pressure in people with hypertension. But if you experience breathlessness or chest pain during exercise, stop and call your doctor.
The 70 BPM Limit
If you have heart disease, it’s essential to know that your physical activity should be kept at a moderate level. It’s essential to monitor your heart rate and keep it below 70 beats per minute. If your heart rate exceeds this threshold, you are at an increased risk of hospitalization.
The risks of high-intensity workouts for heart patients
Intense cardiovascular activity can increase your risk of developing arrhythmias (abnormal rhythms) and other cardiac problems. These problems can lead to sudden death during an emergency, such as when you have a heart attack or stroke.
In addition, high-intensity workouts may also worsen symptoms associated with coronary artery disease. A sharp increase in heart rate can lead to angina pectoris (chest pain due to shortness of breath) and peripheral vascular diseases (diseases affecting blood vessels outside your brain and spinal cord).
If you have these conditions, avoid strenuous cardio exercises altogether until your doctor has cleared them for participation.
Frequently Asked Questions
Let’s look at a few common extra questions below.
What are the risks associated with having poor heart health?
There are several risks associated with poor heart health. These include an increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease (CVD), stroke, or experiencing death from cardiac arrest or other causes related to CVD.
Additionally, individuals with hypertension (high blood pressure) or obesity are at an increased risk of coronary artery disease (CAD).
What happens if a low heart rate goes untreated?
Low heart rate is a symptom of many health problems and can be dangerous if not treated. If left untreated, low heart rate may lead to serious health complications such as:
- Heart attack
- Reduced blood flow to the brain
- Chest pain due to reduced oxygenation of the blood
What happens when your heartbeat is too fast (200 BPM)?
Ventricular tachycardia is a condition in which the heart rate exceeds 200 BPM. When your heart beats too quickly, it strains your arteries and veins. Over time, this can lead to several health problems, including chest pain or shortness of breath.
If you experience a rapid heart rate in combination with sustained chest pain, dizziness or shortness of breath, don’t hesitate to call the doctor.
Leave It to the Doctors
If you experience any signs of a cardiac emergency, the best thing to do is stop all activity and seek medical attention as soon as possible. If you’re unsure, consult the ACLS algorithm for more information. Don’t try to self-medicate with over-the-counter medications like ibuprofen or acetaminophen as they could make the situation worse. Instead, call 911 and let the professionals take care of you.