Your Guide to Ventricular Tachycardia

Medically Reviewed By Dr. Payal Kohli, M.D., FACC
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Ventricular tachycardia is when the bottom part of the heart beats too fast. The heart beats over 100 times per minute. This can be fatal because this arrhythmia is not stable. This condition is also known as V-tach or VT. Most cases of ventricular tachycardia occur due to heart disease, but some medicines may also cause the condition. If

ventricular tachycardia leads to a condition called ventricular fibrillation, the situation can be life threatening and can result in cardiac arrest.

Read on to find out more about ventricular tachycardia, including what causes it, how to recognize symptoms, and how to prevent it from occurring.

What is ventricular tachycardia?

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Ventricular tachycardia is a type of arrhythmia. This means the heart is not beating at the rate or in the rhythm it should.

“Ventricular” refers to the lower chambers of the heart, called the ventricles. “Tachycardia” means the heart is beating faster than 100 beats per minute. With ventricular tachycardia, the lower part of the heart starts to beat too quickly.

Ventricular tachycardia can cause sudden cardiac death, but some people tolerate the condition well. However, it is important that doctors diagnose the cause of ventricular tachycardia and treat the cause of the condition.

Vs. ventricular fibrillation

Ventricular fibrillation, or V-fib, occurs when the lower chambers of the heart quiver rather than beat. This happens as a result of an issue with the heart’s electrical activity, preventing the heart from pumping blood.

This is a life threatening condition that causes the person to collapse and go into cardiac arrest.

If ventricular tachycardia worsens or becomes destabilized, it can lead to ventricular fibrillation. It is important to recognize the symptoms and triggers of

ventricular tachycardia to reduce the risk of it developing into ventricular fibrillation.

Vs. supraventricular tachycardia

Supraventricular tachycardia (SVT) starts in the upper chambers, or atria, of the heart. In contrast, ventricular tachycardia starts in the lower chambers, or ventricles, of the heart.

In both cases, the heart beats too fast to effectively pump blood through the body. Unlike ventricular tachycardia, episodes of SVT can be harmless and may settle without treatment. They are not as high risk for causing cardiac arrest.

Nonsustained vs. sustained ventricular tachycardia

Nonsustained ventricular tachycardia lasts for under 30 seconds or for only a few beats of the heart. It may not cause any noticeable symptoms.

Sustained ventricular tachycardia occurs for over 30 seconds and presents physical symptoms of ventricular tachycardia such as dizziness, fainting, and breathlessness. Medical intervention may be necessary, and sustained ventricular tachycardia may lead to cardiac arrest.

Both types of

ventricular tachycardia require a medical workup to determine their causes.

What are the symptoms of ventricular tachycardia?

Symptoms of ventricular tachycardia occur as a result of the heart’s ventricles, or lower chamber, not being able to pump oxygen-rich blood through the body. It is important to recognize the symptoms of

ventricular tachycardia so that you can seek treatment as soon as possible and prevent the condition from worsening.

Symptoms of ventricular tachycardia include:

Seek immediate medical attention if you experience any of these symptoms.

What causes ventricular tachycardia?

Ventricular tachycardia typically occurs as a result of conditions affecting the heart. Examples of causes of ventricular tachycardia include:

When ventricular tachycardia occurs in young people, it is not always possible to identify the cause.

What can trigger ventricular tachycardia?

While ventricular tachycardia most commonly occurs as a result of heart disease, a range of factors may trigger or cause the condition. Some conditions cause a person to be naturally predisposed to having ventricular tachycardia whereas other conditions can trigger ventricular tachycardia in anyone.

Such triggers for ventricular tachycardia include:

  • hypokalemia, which refers to low potassion in the bloodstream
  • hypomagnesemia, which is an electrolyte disturbance
  • sleep apnea
  • atrial fibrillation, in which the heartbeat is irregular and faster than usual
  • QT prolongation
  • long QT syndrome
  • hypertrophic cardiomyopathy
  • congenital coronary artery anomalies

Can I prevent ventricular tachycardia?

If you are at risk of ventricular tachycardia, your doctor may suggest one of the following:

What are the complications of ventricular tachycardia?

If left undiagnosed or untreated, ventricular tachycardia may present complications. The severity of the complications depends on how fast the heart is beating and how long the rapid heart rate lasts.

There may also be a greater risk of complications if there is any other condition affecting the heart.

Examples of complications of ventricular tachycardia include:

Is ventricular tachycardia life threatening?

Ventricular tachycardia can be life threatening. If the condition worsens, it can lead to ventricular fibrillation. This is where the heart’s lower chambers quiver rather than beat, preventing the heart from pumping blood through the body.

Ventricular fibrillation is a life threatening condition that can result in collapsing or going into cardiac arrest. Around 300,000 people in the United States die each year as a result of ventricular tachycardia and ventricular fibrillation.

How is ventricular tachycardia diagnosed?

A doctor may perform a series of tests in order to diagnose ventricular tachycardia. Examples of tests used to diagnose VT include:

  • Electrocardiogram tracing: If ventricular tachycardia occurs while you are with a doctor, an electrocardiogram (ECG) can trace the electrical activity of your heart. This occurs alongside a physical examination, chest X-ray, and lab tests.
  • Wearing a portable ECG: Wearing a portable ECG allows you to record the rhythm of your heart on an ongoing basis even when you are not at the hospital or in surgery. This is also known as Holter monitoring, ambulatory ECG, or cardiac event monitoring.
  • An echocardiogram: During an echocardiogram, sound waves build up a detailed picture of your heart, providing a clearer overview of how it is performing.
  • Coronary angiogram procedure: A coronary angiogram uses X-ray imaging to display an image of the blood vessels in your heart. This helps to show whether a part of your heart is not getting enough blood.
  • Electrophysiology study: An electrophysiologist identifies areas of the heart tissue where there are abnormal electric pulses, which in turn may be the cause of the ventricular tachycardia.
  • Cardiac MRI: A cardiac MRI shows how blood flows through the heart by presenting still or moving imaging.
  • Stress testing: The heart is monitored while you use a treadmill or ride a stationary bicycle. This is because tachycardia can be triggered by or can worsen due to exercise.

What treatment options are there for ventricular tachycardia?

Following a ventricular tachycardia diagnosis, your doctor will explain the available treatment options to help you to manage the condition and prevent it from worsening.

Medical treatment options for

ventricular tachycardia include:

  • Antiarrhythmic medications: Medications designed to slow the heart rate down can help to prevent ventricular tachycardia from reoccurring. This includes beta blockers.
  • Catheter ablation: Catheters are inserted into blood vessels to destroy tiny areas of heart tissue that are causing the issue.
  • Implantable cardioverter defibrillator: A cardioverter defibrillator detects abnormal heart rhythms and helps to restore them. This is typically implanted, but it may also be worn as a vest.
  • Pacemaker: A pacemaker is a small device surgically implanted under the skin. When it detects an irregular heart rhythm, it sends an electrical pulse to correct it.

At-home treatment options for

ventricular tachycardia include:

  • Exercising regularly: Around 30 minutes of moderate exercise a day can help to keep your heart healthy while also helping you maintain a moderate weight.
  • Eating a balanced diet: Eat a diet that is rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains but low in saturated and trans fats. Keep your electrolytes balanced.
  • Monitoring your blood pressure: Keep on top of your blood pressure with an at-home blood pressure monitor, ensuring that your blood pressure is not too high.
  • Lowering your cholesterol: If your cholesterol level is high, it is important that you take steps to lower it to reduce the risk of ventricular tachycardia.
  • Limiting caffeine and alcohol intake: Both caffeine and alcohol have negative effects on your heart’s health. Reduce or moderate your intake of both, and speak to your doctor if you are not sure how much caffeine or alcohol is safe for you.
  • Quitting smoking: If you smoke, then taking steps to stop smoking can help to improve your heart’s overall health.

In an emergency situation, immediate treatment includes a shock via automatic external defibrillation (AED) to restore the heartbeat to its usual pace.

When should I contact a doctor?

It is important that you contact your doctor as soon as you notice any symptoms relating to your heart or your breathing. They will be able to carry out tests and advise on whether a referral to a specialist is needed.

Seek immediate medical attention if you experience any of the following symptoms:

Read our article about when to go to the ER for a rapid heart rate for more information.

Summary

Ventricular tachycardia occurs when the ventricles in the bottom part of the heart beat too quickly. This may be for a few seconds without any symptoms, or it may be life threatening and result in cardiac arrest.

Ventricular tachycardia typically happens due to other conditions affecting the heart. Your doctor will be able to carry out tests to diagnose ventricular tachycardia. If there is a family history of heart conditions, your doctor may also recommend testing your close family members.

Treatment options are available to help to reduce the risk of ven

tricular tachycardia occurring. You can take preventative measures in cases where you are at risk of developing the condition.

If you experience any chest pain, difficulty breathing, or heart palpitations, contact your doctor. If these symptoms are severe or long-lasting, seek immediate medical attention.

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Medical Reviewer: Dr. Payal Kohli, M.D., FACC
Last Review Date: 2022 Feb 25
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