Heart disease is the number one killer of both men and women in this country. Although there are a variety of risk factors for heart disease including family history, smoking, lack of physical activity, obesity, elevated blood pressure, and high cholesterol levels, there’s new evidence, at least in women, that a fast resting heart rate may be risk factor.
A study which is due to be published in the British Medical Journal this month shows that women who have fast heart rates at rest are more likely to have a heart attack or die of heart related complications. This was shown after the researchers looked at over 4,000 women with a history of heart disease or stroke over a period of 7.8 years. The researchers looked closely for correlations between resting heart rate and heart disease. The found that a fast resting heart rate in women was associated with a higher risk of heart attack and heart related death, but not stroke. A fast heart rate of 76 beats per minute or more at rest was associated with a twenty-six percent increased risk of heart attack or heart related death.
What about a fast resting heart rate in men? Although this study didn’t address that issue previous studies have shown a similar association in males. This appears to be independent of other risk factors such as high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol, and smoking.
If you have a fast heart rate at rest should you be concerned? Although this is only one factor that may contribute to the risk of a heart attack, if present, it may signal a need for closer monitoring and stronger efforts to control other risk factors such as blood pressure and cholesterol levels. It’s unclear whether efforts to reduce fast heart rates at rest with an aerobic exercise program would have a major impact on heart attack risk. People who do regular vigorous exercise can sometimes lower their resting heart rate significantly. One thing that is known is that vigorous exercise, in general, appears to lower the overall risk of heart disease and heart attack. Of course, you should always check with your doctor before starting an exercise program particularly if you have risk factors for heart disease.
One word of caution, an accurate resting heart rate may be difficult to obtain in your doctor’s office as you may be nervous about being in a strange environment. The best way to get a true assessment of your heart rate is to check it while sitting quietly in a chair at home for one minute. Never check it when you’re in a hurry, nervous, or have a fever. You should always sit for a few minutes before assessing your heart rate.
If you find you have a fast heart rate at rest of over seventy-six beats per minute, make your doctor aware of this fact. In addition to more closely assessing your cardiac risk factors, he may want to do lab studies to rule out other causes such as an overactive thyroid.