What is Ventricular Tachycardia?
Ventricular tachycardia is a heart rhythm disorder (arrhythmia) in which the heart beats too quickly because of abnormal electrical signals in the lower chambers of the heart (ventricles). The severity of ventricular tachycardia varies. The most severe cases can lead to sudden cardiac arrest, which is a medical emergency.
The heart has four chambers, two upper chambers (atria) and two lower chambers (ventricles). When you have ventricular tachycardia, the electrical signals that control the contraction of the ventricles cause the heart to beat too quickly or cause the chambers of the heart to contract out of sync with each other. This prevents the chambers from properly filling with blood and circulating the right amount of blood. Ventricular tachycardia usually occurs in people with another heart condition, such as those who have had a previous heart attack.
Baptist Health is known for advanced, superior care for patients with heart disease and the diagnosis and treatment of heart conditions such as ventricular tachycardia. You will appreciate timely appointments and a professional, friendly atmosphere where we take time to listen to your concerns. At Baptist Health, you have access to the region’s most comprehensive, multidisciplinary team of specialists and innovative therapies, including many available only through specialized clinical trials. In every way, we work to demonstrate the utmost in excellent care to those who trust us with their health.
Signs and Symptoms
A brief episode of ventricular tachycardia may not present any symptoms, but if this rapid heart rate lasts longer, it may cause serious medical problems. Signs and symptoms of ventricular tachycardia can include:
- Shortness of breath
- Heart palpitations
- Chest pain
- Loss of consciousness
Prompt diagnosis is necessary to address ventricular tachycardia and reduce the risk of cardiac arrest. We use advanced technology to effectively diagnose, inform treatment and carefully monitor heart conditions. These include:
Echocardiogram: An ultrasound exam that uses soundwaves to take moving pictures of the heart’s chambers and valves.
Electrocardiogram (EKG): This test measures the electrical activity of the heart and can help determines if parts of the heart are enlarged, overworked or damaged. The heart’s electrical currents are detected by 12 to 15 electrodes that are attached to the arms, legs and chest via sticky tape.
Electrophysiology study: This test records the heart’s electrical activities and pathways. It can help find what’s causing heart rhythm problems and identify the best treatment.
Event monitor: This portable EKG device records the heart rate when a button is pressed. It can be worn for weeks or until symptoms occur.
Holter monitor: This portable EKG device continuously records the heart’s rhythms and is worn for 24 to 48 hours during normal activity.
Implantable loop recorder: This device sits underneath the skin and provides long-term, continuous heart rhythm monitoring.
Stress testing: This test is conducted during exercise. If a person can't exercise, medicine is given to increase heart rate. Used along with an EKG, the test can show changes to the heart’s rate, rhythm or electrical activity as well as blood pressure. Exercise makes the heart work hard and beat fast while heart tests are administered.
Transtelephonic monitor: This device provides ongoing heart rhythm monitoring that a medical technician can review remotely.
Ventricular tachycardia causes can include:
- Use of drugs such as cocaine
- Excessive use of caffeine or alcohol
- Side effects from certain medications
Risk factors that could contribute to ventricular tachycardia include:
Medical history: Having a history of heart disease or sarcoidosis (an inflammatory disease) may increase the risk of having ventricular tachycardia.
Family history: A family history of ventricular tachycardia or other heart rhythm disorders may increase the risk of having this condition.
Electrolyte abnormality: Ventricular tachycardia may result from an imbalance of electrolytes, minerals that help regulate heart rhythm.
While some risk factors like age and heredity cannot be controlled, there are ways you can lower the risk of having ventricular tachycardia:
Practice good heart health: Watch what you eat, exercise, don’t smoke, drink alcohol in moderation, limit caffeine and avoid recreational drugs.
Watch your blood pressure and cholesterol: Work with your doctor to keep your blood pressure and cholesterol under control.
Take medications as prescribed: Take the medications your physician prescribes for heart disease or other conditions, and use care with over-the-counter drugs such as cold and cough medications.
Get regular checkups: If you have been diagnosed with ventricular tachycardia or another heart condition, see your doctor regularly and report any changes or new symptoms right away.
Ventricular tachycardia may have minimal effect or may be life-threatening. The prognosis and treatment depend on the rate of heartbeat, length of an episode and presence of another heart condition.
Treatment and Recovery
The two main types of ventricular tachycardia are non-sustained ventricular tachycardia, which stops on its own within 30 seconds, and sustained ventricular tachycardia, which lasts longer than 30 seconds and may require immediate medical care. To resolve an episode of sustained ventricular tachycardia, a medical team may use cardioversion, which gives electrical shocks to restore a normal heart rhythm. They may also provide an anti-arrhythmic medication such as lidocaine. Treatments for ventricular tachycardia include:
Your doctor may prescribe anti-arrhythmic medications to help prevent a fast heart rate.
Procedures to treat ventricular tachycardia depend on the cause and severity of this condition:
Catheter ablation: One or more catheters will be threaded through blood vessels to the heart. Electrodes at the catheter tips use heat, extreme cold or radiofrequency energy to damage (ablate) a small spot of heart tissue and create an electrical block to help correct ventricular tachycardia.
Implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD): This device can monitor heart rhythm and produce electrical shocks, when needed, to control rapid and abnormal heart beats.
Surgery: Ventricular tachycardia is sometimes related to blocked or narrowed blood vessels or structural damage to the heart. Doctors may be able to prevent or decrease episodes of ventricular tachycardia by treating an underlying heart condition through a surgical procedure.
The severity of ventricular tachycardia depends on the length and frequency of episodes, the heart rate during each episode and related heart conditions. Complications may include:
Heart failure: If ventricular tachycardia prevents the heart from pumping enough blood, this may result in life-threatening heart failure.
Unconsciousness: Limited blood circulation may cause fainting spells or unconsciousness.
Cardiac arrest: Severe ventricular tachycardia can cause the heart to stop beating.
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