Rapid heartbeat, also known as tachycardia, can be treated with simple physical movements known as vagal maneuvers or with anti-arrhythmic medication administered at a hospital, according to the Mayo Clinic. In emergency situations, electric shocks may be used to restore the heart's normal rhythm.
Vagal maneuvers such as coughing, bearing down as if having a bowel movement and putting an icepack on the face affect the vagus nerve, which regulates the heartbeat, says the Mayo Clinic. If such maneuvers are unsuccessful, the administration of flecainide or propafenone may become necessary.
Catheter ablation can prevent tachycardia, according to the Mayo Clinic. Such a procedure may be appropriate when increased heart rate is due to the presence of an extra electrical pathway in the heart. Electrodes at the catheter tips damage the extra pathway, preventing it from sending the electric signals that cause an increase in heart rate. In some cases, open-heart surgery may be necessary to destroy this pathway. Surgery is generally only used as a last resort.
Pacemakers and implantable cardioverter-defibrillators also prevent heart arrhythmia, the Mayo Clinic notes. Pacemakers use electric pulses to maintain a normal heart rhythm. Implantable cardioverter-defibrillators are particularly appropriate for those who are most prone to life-threatening tachycardia episodes.