What is ventricular tachycardia?
Ventricular tachycardia is an abnormally fast heart rate. The abnormal heart rate originates in one of the heart's lower chambers (ventricles). It is diagnosed when there are three or more beats in succession originating from a ventricle. The heart beats at a rate greater than 100 beats per minute, but less than 200 beats per minute.
Heart Chambers and Valves
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Ventricular tachycardia is considered sustained if it lasts more than 30 seconds. When this condition is sustained, the ventricles are not able to fill with enough blood for the heart to keep blood flowing properly through the body. This can result in lowered blood pressure, heart failure , and death.
Damage to the ventricles can cause ventricular tachycardia. This damage to the heart muscle may be due to conditions like a heart attack or cardiomyopathy .
Risk Factors & Symptoms
Factors that may increase your chance of ventricular tachycardia include:
- Coronary artery disease (CAD)
- History of heart attacks
- Heart abnormalities, such as cardiomyopathy, mitral valve prolapse, valvular heart disease, or ion channel disorders
- Diagnosis of electrical instability
- Beginning treatment for hypothyroidism
- Use of certain medications, such as antipsychotics or anti-arrhythmic drugs
- Extreme physical or emotional overstimulation
- Low oxygen levels in the blood
- Very high levels of acid in bodily fluids
- Stimulants, such as caffeine, alcohol, or cocaine
Ventricular tachycardia may cause:
- A sensation of the heart beating very rapidly – palpitations
- Feeling lightheaded
- Feeling short of breath
- Chest discomfort
- Pale skin color
Diagnosis & Treatment
This condition can be challenging to diagnose. Ventricular tachycardia often happens in emergency situations. It must be identified and treated very quickly. To make the diagnosis, the doctor will order tests, such as:
- Electrocardiogram (EKG)
- Exercise stress test to test the heart’s performance
- Electrophysiology test to study the electrical signals of the heart
In an emergency situation, CPR or a defibrillator may be required. Other treatment options may include:
Medical Drug Therapy. Medications may be used to:
- Slow the heart rate
- Keep the heart in a regular rhythm
- Prevent clot formation
Procedures Performed by St. Elizabeth's Medical Center's Electrophysiology Services
Cardioversion. This procedure uses an electrical current or drugs to help normalize the heart rhythm.
Catheter Ablation. An area of the heart that is responsible for atrial fibrillation may be surgically removed or altered.
Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator. An implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) can be surgically placed in the chest to continuously monitors the heart’s rhythm. If it detects an abnormal beat, it automatically sends electrical impulses to restore the heart’s normal rhythm.
To help reduce your chance of ventricular tachycardia:
- Take medications to control heart rate and blood pressure
- Get proper treatment for any underlying heart conditions
- Use alcohol and caffeine in moderation
- Take prevention steps to avoid heart disease by maintaining a healthy weight and exercising
- If you smoke, talk to your doctor about how you can successfully quit