What Causes a Racing Pulse and What Should You Do About It?

A racing pulse has a variety of causes, some of which can be serious. Here’s what you need to know if you’re experiencing this symptom.

Your heart is an organ that can quickly respond to the needs of your body and the external environment. When more oxygen and nourishment are needed by the body such as during exercise, the heart can respond by increasing the number of beats per minute. When you’re relaxed, sleeping, or meditating, the heart can slow down since your oxygen requirements aren’t as high. Sometimes the heart can respond atypically for various reasons. You may experience the sensation of your heart racing at night when you’re lying in bed or feel your pulse racing when you’re relaxing. This can happen for a variety of reasons, some of which are serious. For this reason, it’s important to contact your doctor if you have this symptom. Here are some causes of a racing pulse.


A variety of medications including common, over the counter medications can cause a racing pulse. Over the counter pain medications that contain caffeine can cause the pulse rate to rise as can decongestants. Prescription medications used to treat asthma such as theophylline and some aerosol asthma treatments can cause the pulse rate to increase in some cases. Illegal drugs such as cocaine and legal drugs such as nicotine are also known offenders. If you’ve started a new medication, check with your doctor to see if it could be the problem.


Caffeine is another drug that can cause a racing pulse. Some people are extremely sensitive to the effects of caffeine and are prone to developing a rapid pulse rate with even small amounts of this stimulant. Try cutting back on your caffeine if no other cause for your racing pulse can be found. Keep a diary of your symptoms and see if they improve with caffeine restriction.

Anxiety and Stress

When you’re anxious or under stress, your body produces large amounts of adrenaline which can cause a racing pulse associated with symptoms such as nervousness and sweating. Although stress can elevate the pulse rate, don’t assume that this is the cause until you’ve ruled out more serious etiologies. If this is the cause, your doctor may be able to give you an anti-anxiety medication to use at bedtime, particularly if you feel your heart racing at night when you’re trying to rest.

Non-heart related medical problems

A variety of medical conditions unrelated to your heart can cause a racing pulse. Two of the more common ones are anemia and an overactive thyroid. Both of these conditions can be diagnosed with a simple blood test performed in your doctor’s office and can usually be successfully treated. Occasionally, episodes of hypoglycemia or low blood sugar can cause the heart to beat rapidly. Symptoms are usually relieved by drinking orange juice or another drink high in sugar.

Heart related problems

A racing pulse can also be caused by an abnormal heart rhythm or arrhythmia. To determine if there is an abnormal heart rhythm, your doctor will first perform an electrocardiogram. If the abnormal rhythm isn’t detected by EKG, he or she may recommend wearing a monitor for a day or two to record any abnormal rhythm that occurs when you’re at home. This is a way to screen for more serious, heart related causes of a racing pulse.

Always see your doctor if you have a racing pulse or you can feel your heart racing at night. In some cases, this can be a serious symptom and you don’t want to take any chances with the only “ticker” you have.

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  1. Wow – ya gotta love the medical community. It might be non-heart related. It might be heart related. Sheesh! In other words, they have no idea really. Thanks, doctorbs!

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