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Ask the Medical Expert Archives 2000-2004

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Effects on Heart Rate
January 2001

Q. I am writing a report on the heart and I was wondering what effects the heart rate? I hope you can help!

A. The heart rate is controlled through a very complex system of feedback mechanisms. The goal of the heart rate is to maintain the blood pressure and to assure adequate circulation of the blood. So, the heart rate will go up if there is a need for increased blood circulation (such as exercise), or if there is an increased need to raise the blood pressure (for example, there has been bleeding associated with trauma).

In addition, the nervous system ultimately controls the heartbeat so that conditions such as anxiety can cause the pulse to increase. Your heart rate can be affected by medications that you take. For example, beta blockers will lower the heart rate whereas some decongestants can raise the heart rate.

The amazing thing is that while the nervous system generally has control of the heart rate, should the nervous system fail to send the appropriate messages to the heart, the heart is capable of beating on its own. The heart beat that is controlled by the heart depends on the part of the heart that is in control.

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