Check Your Pulse

High resting heart rate tied to increased death risk


Here's something to get your heart pumping: Your pulse could say a lot about your health.

Patients with a high resting heart rate may have an increased risk of dying from any cause, a new study found.

In this study, which looked at 46 past studies comprising 1,246,203 patients, patients whose resting heart rates were higher than 80 beats per minute were about 45 percent more likely than those who fell between 60 and 80 beats per minute to die of any cause — not just from heart problems.

And the link between resting heart rate (your pulse when you're at rest) and overall death risk appeared to be independent of traditional heart disease risk factors like smoking, obesity and lack of exercise, wrote lead study author Dr. Dongfeng Zhang, of the Medical College of Qingdao University in China, and colleagues.

Jeffrey M. Schussler, MD, an interventional cardiologist on the medical staff at Baylor Heart and Vascular Hospital and Baylor University Medical Center at Dallas, said there's probably an explanation for this finding in the reasons why patients might have a quick pulse in the first place.

"Higher resting heart rates may indicate patients who are deconditioned, have higher physiologic stress and may explain why they have an increased risk of dying," Dr. Schussler, who was not involved in the current study, said.

If your heart rate seems a little fast, don't panic just yet, Dr. Schussler said.

"There is a wide range of 'normal,' and so having a resting heart rate which is at the high end of 'normal' may not mean anything is wrong, and may not need treatment," Dr. Schussler said.

Still, particularly if you have other risk factors for heart and other health problems, seeing a doctor isn't a bad idea, Dr. Schussler said.

Dr. Zhang noted in a press release that "The available evidence does not fully establish resting heart rate as a risk factor, but there is no doubt that elevated resting heart rate serves as a marker of poor health status. Our results highlight that people should pay more attention to their resting heart rate for their health, and also indicate the potential importance of physical activity to lower resting heart rate."

This study was published online Nov. 23 in the Canadian Medical Association Journal. Dr. Zhang and team disclosed no outside funding sources or conflicts of interest.