I’m Not a Doctor and I Try Not to Play One on the Internet

The number one question I receive from blog readers is “My heart rate spikes really high when I run, what should I do?”.

My answer is always going to be “Call your doctor immediately.”  And it’s not always well received. 

It’s hard to think about your body not doing what it’s supposed to.  And it’s harder to think about it when it’s a major organ that’s malfunctioning and making you feel uncomfortable.  But if you’re noticing something doesn’t feel right with your heart then something is probably wrong.

The primary function of the heart is to supply blood and nutrients to the body. The regular beating, or contraction, of the heart moves the blood throughout the body. Each heartbeat is controlled by electrical impulses traveling through the heart. In the normal heart these electrical impulses occur in regular intervals. When something goes wrong with the heart’s electrical system, the heart does not beat regularly. The irregular beating results in a rhythm disorder (1)

If you feel sick you stay home from work or school. If your body is hurt you need to respect it.

Even if you’re experiencing something you can “push though” you could be doing damage to your body.  I adapted to running with a super high heart rate – I ran slower, I took breaks to let my heart slow down – and though I was running, I wasn’t running my best. I felt shaky and sick after long runs and had no appetite from the adrenaline surge that came with a rapid heart rate.  Ultimately I realized that my adapting was basically skewing my HR data – the slow downs and walk breaks were bringing my average beats per min down but the speed it was going when I was running was still way too high.  So I saw a doctor.

And remember, doctors aren’t perfect.  For years, I thought I had breathing problems from allergies or sports induced asthma.  I went to my general practitioner and said I have a hard time catching my breath exercising and they handed me an inhaler.  It took a lot of work to figure out that wasn’t the cause there was such an easy explanation.  A tachycardia is a fast or irregular heart rhythm, usually more than 100 beats per minute and as many as 400 beats per minute. At these elevated rates, the heart is not able to efficiently pump oxygen-rich blood to your body (2).

There are just so many possible causes for heart problems – some include:

  • Heart-related conditions such as high blood pressure (hypertension)
  • Poor blood supply to the heart muscle due to coronary artery disease (atherosclerosis), heart valve disease, heart failure, heart muscle disease (cardiomyopathy), tumors, or infections
  • Other medical conditions such as thyroid disease, certain lung diseases, electrolyte imbalance, and alcohol or drug abuse
  • Emotional stress or drinking large amounts of alcoholic or caffeinated beverages

And your main symptoms can vary.  Some include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Dizziness
  • Sudden weakness
  • Fluttering in the chest
  • Lightheadedness
  • Fainting

Feeling dizzy and lightheaded is no fun

I’m always happy to talk to people who are scared or worried about how they feel. If you have specific questions about how I deal with my situation, I’m happy to answer those too.  Just think, if you’re soliciting help online you can probably get better advice from a doctor 🙂

Resources on Heart Rhythm Disorders:

  1. EMedicine Health
  2. Thyroid Hormone Disorders
  3. Medline Plus
  4. American Heart Association
  5. Mayo Clinic Heart Rate Calculator


Filed under exercise

6 responses to “I’m Not a Doctor and I Try Not to Play One on the Internet

  1. Very well said. I tend to try to diagnose myself when I probably really should go visit a doctor (my ankle woes being the latest example).

  2. 2blu2btru

    I tried to “push through” some hip pain…and ended up limping and not being able to bend my leg without pain at the groin. I relented and went to the doctor. I had swollen lymph nodes. Icing, stretching, and ibuprofen made me feel better, but wasn’t going to alleviate the problem, which required antibiotics. I expected running to be difficult and not feel good, so I pushed past a lot of things that I needed to see a doctor or fitness professional about in these first few weeks/months of starting to run, including foot pain (shoes), tired legs (?), tight calves (?), and the hip pain. You can only learn so much from running mags and WebMD; sometimes you need to talk to an expert. Really great reminder.

  3. Liz

    Do you have a doctor you can recommend in the area? Last summer on a few long runs my heart would start racing out of no where and it kind of freaked me out.

  4. Always a good reminder. Doctors can be wrong, as you noted, but people should always get checked out!

  5. Great post, it seems a lot of people (me included) tend to Google Diagnose ourself! Always best to see a doctor, but hearing from others with similar stories helps sometimes too.

  6. Pingback: Who is this CarlyBananas Girl Anyway? | CarlyBananas

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