Sunday, March 21, 2010

Heart Rate Increases When I Can’t Sleep

Why does your heart rate increase when you are resting or trying to go to sleep? There are many reasons why you can’t sleep because your heart is racing, which could be as simple as trying to deal with the stress in your life. Medically there are three reasons you should see your physician when your heart rate increases: Atherosclerosis, Panic Attacks and Hyperthyroidism.


Atherosclerosis a type of arteriosclerosis is a medical condition where fatty calcium deposits or plaque collect along the walls of the arteries and may eventually cause blockage. Symptoms don’t start until blood flow becomes restricted. Restricted blood flow can cause other medical problems such as; an aneurysm, coronary artery disease, kidney disease or stroke.

To help stop atherosclerosis it is important to make healthy lifestyle changes for example; avoid fatty foods, stop smoking, don’t drink more than two alcoholic beverages a day and exercise at least 30 – 90 minutes a day. You might live a healthy lifestyle but still experience atherosclerosis because of age or family history.

Go to the doctor and make sure you get your blood pressure, cholesterol and triglycerides checked. If you have plaque buildup in your arteries statins or other cholesterol-lowing drugs can prevent plaque from forming. Your doctor may also prescribe Plavix to help prevent blood clots. If you are having complications due to atherosclerosis, surgery maybe recommended such as; heart surgery, carotid artery surgery or abdominal aortic aneurysm repair.

Symptoms of atherosclerosis are chest pain, shortness of breath and irregular heart beat. If untreated the results could be a heart attack, embolism or stroke. Atherosclerosis can affect other organs including your lungs, brain, intestines, kidneys and extremities (arms and legs). Call for an appointment with your health care provider if you are at risk for atherosclerosis, especially if you have symptoms.


People that suffer from panic attacks sense fear and fight a strong urge to flee also known as the ‘fight-or-flight response’. Their bodies release a hormone epinephrine (adrenaline) in large amounts that cause them to experience the feelings of a heart attack, faint or nauseated, numbness, hot flashes, hyperventilation, heavy breathing, rapid heartbeat and/or even tunnel vision due to blood flow leaving the head as a defensive mechanism to other parts of the body.

My mother experienced a panic attack as she thought her shortness of breath and chest pain were symptoms of an incorrectly without a doubt sign of a heart attack and went to the emergency room. My mother at the time was going through cancer treatments and her fear of dying was the cause of her panic attack. Many people that have chronic or serious illness experience a panic attack, especially if someone has a cardiac condition they find it hard to distinguish between symptoms of cardiac dysfunction and symptoms of anxiety.

Other causes of panic attacks maybe due to heredity. Panic disorder has been found to run in families as parents express an overly cautious view of the world which overtime creates accumulative stress with their children. Post traumatic stress disorder, phobias, obsessive compulsive disorder, hypoglycemia, hyperventilation syndrome, inner ear disturbances and a Vitamin B deficiency have also been known to trigger a panic attack.

Drugs, caffeine, nicotine, cocaine, Ritalin, amphetamines contribute to panic attacks particularly when starting or weaning off a stimulant or medication. Alcohol withdrawal can also be a factor. Emotional triggers such as a personal loss, significant life change, negative thinking, withheld feelings and stress from school, work, family issues and deployment cause panic attacks. If you feel you are experiencing panic attacks contact your physician as he will find the cause and provide proper treatment.


Hyperthyroidism or overactive thyroid is a condition in which the thyroid gland makes too much thyroid hormone. Some symptoms are restlessness, fatigue, increased appetite, increased sweating, hair loss, rapid or irregular heartbeat, nausea and nervousness. Treatment for hyperthyroidism includes; anti-thyroid medications, radioactive iodine and surgically removing the thyroid. If you take radioactive iodine which will destroy the thyroid or surgically remove it you will have to take thyroid hormone replacement medication for the rest of your life.

How do you get hyperthyroidism? Your thyroid is located in the front of your throat just below your voice box. It produces hormones which control the way every cell in your body uses energy or your metabolism. When your thyroid releases too much hormone over a short or long period of time it can cause you to get too much iodine, inflammation of the thyroid, noncancerous growths on your thyroid of pituitary gland and/or tumors on your ovaries or testes.

A physical exam may reveal an enlarged thyroid, increased heart rate, high systolic blood pressure and abnormal thyroid hormones in your blood levels. As there are no known ways to prevent hyperthyroidism it is generally treatable and only rarely life threatening. Thyroid crisis also known as thyrotixicosis is sudden worsening of hyperthyroidism symptoms and immediate hospitalization is needed as heart related complications may occur including; rapid heart rate and congestive heart failure. When do you go to the emergency room? When you are suffering from hyperthyroidism and experience a change in consciousness, dizziness or have a rapid, irregular heartbeat.

The information I provided should not be used for diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. If you can’t sleep because your heart rate increases a licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions.
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