Illustration of anatomical heart to highlight signs of an unhealthy heart rate

What are the signs of an unhealthy heart rate?

Medically reviewed on August 1, 2022 by Karen Janson, M.D. To give you technically accurate, evidence-based information, content published on the Everlywell blog is reviewed by credentialed professionals with expertise in medical and bioscience fields.

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Whether you feel your pulse on your wrist or press a hand to your heart, your heart rate is one of the few health factors you can feel in real-time. Still, it may not always be easy to know what heart rate is healthy—and if you’re wondering about your heart, you may ask, “What are the signs of an unhealthy heart rate?”

For most people, a healthy heart rate ranges from 60 to 100 beats per minute. [1] That said, some people’s resting heart rate can be dangerous, and certain health conditions can stem from heart rate problems.

While symptoms of an unhealthy heart rate may resemble traditional exhaustion or minor illness, there are other elements to consider. This article will take you through common signs of heart rate problems, as well as the potential dangers of an unhealthy heart rate. Along the way, we’ll explore actionable steps you can take if you experience these symptoms.

Top signs of an unhealthy heart rate

Heart issues aren’t just isolated to your chest. The signs of an unhealthy heart rate can manifest from your head to your toes and everywhere in between.

Many of these symptoms don’t necessarily point toward compromised heart health. But by knowing what to look for and understanding the range of possible side effects, you’ll be better prepared to deal with potential heart rate issues if they appear.

Irregular heartbeat

One of the clearest signs of an unhealthy heart rate is often an irregular heartbeat. [2] Inconsistencies with your heart rate often indicate that something is off about your heart health, and an irregular heartbeat is a hard-to-miss symptom.

A problem with the rate or rhythm of your heartbeat is called an “arrhythmia.” [2] The most common form of arrhythmia are:

  • Tachycardia – If your heart rate is accelerated and beating faster than normal, the condition is called tachycardia. Ventricular tachycardia occurs when the lower chamber of the heart is beating too fast.
  • Bradycardia – Just the opposite of tachycardia, bradycardia refers to a low heart rate that is slower than normal.
  • Atrial Fibrillation – Also known as AFib, this is the most common type of arrhythmia. Atrial fibrillation occurs when your heart is beating with both an irregular rhythm and an increased rate.

A heart palpitation or the feeling of a pounding heart is different. While sometimes worrisome, it is rarely serious.

Various factors including, heart attacks, smoking, and certain medications, can directly affect your heart rhythm, leading to irregularities and potential health risks.

If you suspect you have an irregular heartbeat, seek advice from your healthcare provider as soon as possible. [2] They may need to run additional tests to diagnose your condition and determine appropriate treatment options.

Fatigue and exhaustion

We’re all subject to the occasional exhaustion, but if you’re feeling constantly fatigued, there may be larger health implications—and your heart rate could be a factor.

Exhaustion is usually traced to a lack of sleep, nutrition, and overworking. But if you’re suffering from an unhealthy heart rate or a condition like bradycardia, you may experience fatigue even when your daily activities, diet, and environment have remained the same. [3]

Heart rate issues may result in an oxygen deficiency in your heart, brain, and other organs, resulting in fatigue. Fatigue-related symptoms may include: [3]

  • Low stamina – Does your normal exercise routine suddenly feel more strenuous? Does a standard walk around the block leave you sweating profusely? If you’re experiencing a significant loss of stamina without a major lifestyle change or injury, consider investigating your heart health.
  • Brain fog – Often, physical fatigue is accompanied by mental fatigue. If you find it more difficult to concentrate or focus on the task at hand, it could be an extension of heart rate-related fatigue.
  • Drowsiness – Extended exhaustion could lead to a constant drowsy feeling. Being overtired can make it difficult to complete tasks and may also be a concern while driving.

As you evaluate your symptoms, it’s important not to negate any fatigue you’re feeling. Be sure to report this to your healthcare provider along with any other issues you’re having, like an irregular heartbeat.

Nausea and dizziness

An oxygen deficiency caused by an irregular heart rate could also lead to a feeling of dizziness. [2] If your heart isn’t pumping enough oxygen to the brain, you may also experience lightheadedness or even fainting.

Alongside dizziness, you could experience nausea and related symptoms, including:

  • Heartburn
  • Stomach pain
  • Indigestion

Consistent stomach-related pain could be the result of any number of illnesses or gastrointestinal problems, but they are also indicators of a potential heart problem. [4] Often, heart attacks and other cardiovascular problems occur following an extended period of unexplained nausea and stomach problems.

Arm and shoulder pain

Early signs of heart problems are often hard to put together. If you experience arm and shoulder pain, you might first attribute it to an exercise injury, soreness, or a result of general aches and pains. But in some instances, arm and shoulder pain may indicate an unhealthy heart rate or an underlying cardiac condition.

Without further testing, it may be difficult to determine whether arm and shoulder pain is heart-related. Consider the following elements of this particular symptom: [4]

  • Pain that occurs on the left side of the body – The nerves in your left arm and shoulder are closely related to the nerves in your heart, causing your brain to often interpret heart pain as arm pain.
  • Additional symptoms – When it’s heart-related, arm or shoulder pain is often accompanied by other symptoms like chest pain, exhaustion, and nausea.

If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms in combination, they could be a sign of a serious heart issue, and you’ll want to consult with a medical professional immediately.

Shortness of breath

Have you been feeling winded? Conditions like asthma and anxiety are common culprits when it comes to shortness of breath. But if you’re having trouble breathing, your heart could also be the issue.

While you might expect a lung issue to interfere with your breathing, an irregular heart rate and related heart issues could leave you struggling to take deep breaths.

Shortness of breath can be a symptom of heart-related issues, including: [4]

  • Heart valve disease – Your heart has four chambers and four valves that regulate blood flow to and from your heart. Issues with your heart valves—particularly your pulmonary valve—could limit your oxygen supply, leading to shortness of breath, among other symptoms. [5]
  • Arrhythmia – Any irregularity of your heart rate could also cause breathing difficulties.
  • Heart failure – If your heart muscle cannot pump enough blood, you may be suffering from congestive heart failure. Shortness of breath is a common side effect associated with this chronic condition.

No matter the cause, shortness of breath can be a concerning symptom—especially if it occurs out of the blue. If you’re having trouble breathing, consult with a healthcare provider right away.

Chest pain

Pain in your chest may appear as an obvious sign of heart problems, but all-too-often these pains are dismissed as heartburn, indigestion, or other gastrointestinal problems.

However, sudden pressure, pain, and burning sensations in your chest should never be ignored, as these symptoms could be linked to your heart rate or other heart-related conditions.

Consider the following key elements of heart-related chest pain:

  • Angina – Chest pain caused by a lack of oxygen reaching your heart is known as angina. [6] Typically, this discomfort is located in the chest, but the sensation may extend to your back, shoulder, neck, or even up to your jaw.
  • Angina is a symptom, not a condition – Angina is a telltale sign of coronary heart disease, but it’s not a disease of its own. You’ll need to treat the root cause of your heart condition to find relief from the chest pain associated with this symptom.

Sleep problems

An unhealthy heart rate can leave you weakened and exhausted even when you’re sleeping plenty. But at the same time, the condition can also make sleep itself more difficult.

An unhealthy heart rate can lead to sleep apnea, a condition in which your breathing stops while you are asleep. [7] Not only is sleep apnea a concerning condition, but it can also hinder your body’s ability to rest and recover.

Sleep problems can also result in further medical complications, including:

  • Heart disease
  • Diabetes
  • Stroke
  • Hypertension

Some medical devices and treatments can help relieve sleep apnea symptoms. However, if your sleep condition is related to a heart rate issue, you may need first to resolve the underlying heart trouble to finally find a healthy night's rest.

Swelling of the feet and ankles

Are your shoes and socks feeling tighter? It may seem like a minor inconvenience, but swollen feet and ankles can point toward an issue within your circulatory system. [8]

When a healthy heart beats, it circulates blood throughout the body evenly. But an irregular heart rate or a weakened heart muscle may not be strong enough, leading to poor circulation.

The result is blood pooling in your lower extremities—the place where gravity naturally pulls your blood.

Consider the following aspects of this symptom:

  • End of the day swelling – Often, unhealthy hearts begin the day pumping regularly, but by the evening, they have begun to lose functionality. If you only notice swelling in the evening when you’re taking off your shoes, it could be a heart-related condition.
  • Blood clot risk – Perhaps most notably, serious swelling in your lower extremities could make you more susceptible to blood clots, leading to highly dangerous conditions such as strokes and embolisms.

Pay close attention to your feet, and alert your healthcare provider if you notice any swelling. They’re not just there to keep you upright–they could also provide you with an important clue about your heart health.

Everlywell: Simple, smart heart health

With this list of symptoms, you might find it a little easier to watch for the signs of a potential heart rate problem. Any of these symptoms may warrant a consultation with your medical provider.

Additionally, you can keep a close eye on your heart health by exploring Everlywell.

What’s going on inside your body doesn’t have to be a guessing game. We’ve perfected lab-tested, physician-reviewed home testing to make prioritizing your health simple and clear. If you’re concerned about your heart, try our Heart Health Test for a comprehensive picture and actionable data.

This test and other tests (including HbA1c and the Cholesterol and Lipids Test) are also available to you when you join the Everlywell+ at-home heart health membership, so you can stay on top of your heart health an on ongoing basis.

There’s a world of wellness to explore, and we’re excited to be your guide.

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  1. American Heart Association. Target Heart Rates Chart. URL. Accessed August 1, 2022.
  2. MedlinePlus. Arrhythmia. URL. Accessed August 1, 2022.
  3. Mayo Clinic. Bradycardia. URL. Accessed August 1, 2022.
  4. American Heart Association. Symptoms, Diagnosis and Monitoring of Arrhythmia. URL. Accessed August 1, 2022.
  5. CDC. Valvular Heart Disease. URL. Accessed August 1, 2022.
  6. American Heart Association. Angina (Chest Pain). URL. Accessed August 1, 2022.
  7. Cleveland Clinic. Sleep Apnea. URL. Accessed August 1, 2022.
  8. MedlinePlus. Warning signs and symptoms of heart disease. URL. Accessed August 1, 2022.
  9. American Heart Association. Other Heart Rhythm Disorders. URL. Accessed August 1, 2022.
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