Ventricular tachycardia is a fast heart rhythm that starts in
the lower part of the heart (ventricles). If left untreated, some forms of ventricular
tachycardia may get worse and lead to ventricular fibrillation, which can be life-threatening.
tachycardia is a fast but regular rhythm. It can lead to ventricular fibrillation,
which is fast and irregular. With ventricular fibrillation, the heartbeats are so
fast and irregular that the heart stops pumping blood. Ventricular fibrillation is
a leading cause of sudden cardiac death.
Sometimes it is not known what causes ventricular
tachycardia, especially when it occurs in young people. But in most cases ventricular
tachycardia is caused by heart disease, such as a previous heart attack, a congenital heart defect, hypertrophic or dilated cardiomyopathy, or myocarditis. Sometimes ventricular tachycardia
occurs after heart surgery. Inherited heart rhythm problems, such as long QT syndrome
or Brugada syndrome, are rare causes of ventricular tachycardia.
decongestants, herbal remedies (especially those that contain ma huang or ephedra),
diet pills, and "pep" pills often contain stimulants that can trigger episodes of
ventricular tachycardia. Illegal drugs (such as stimulants, like cocaine) also may
cause ventricular tachycardia. It is important to be aware of which substances have
an effect on you and how to avoid them.
In ventricular tachycardia, the heart beats too rapidly and the
ventricles cannot effectively pump oxygen-rich blood to the rest of the body. Ventricular
tachycardia can be life-threatening.
Palpitations, an uncomfortable awareness of
the heart beating rapidly or irregularly.
heart rhythm is dangerous for most people. If it lasts more than just a few seconds,
it can turn into ventricular fibrillation, which causes sudden death.
How is ventricular tachycardia diagnosed?
If an electrocardiogram (EKG, ECG) can be done while ventricular tachycardia is occurring,
it often provides the most useful information. An electrocardiogram is a tracing of
the electrical activity of your heart. It is usually done along with a history and
physical exam, lab tests, and a chest X-ray.
Because ventricular tachycardia
can occur intermittently and may not always be captured by an EKG at the doctor's
office, you may be asked to use a portable EKG to record your heart rhythm on a continuous
basis, usually over a 24-hour period. This is referred to by several names, including
ambulatory electrocardiography, ambulatory EKG, Holter monitoring, 24-hour EKG,
or cardiac event monitoring.
Your doctor may recommend further tests, including
an echocardiogram, to evaluate your heart's function, a stress test or coronary angiogram
to determine whether a part of the heart is not getting enough blood, and/or an electrophysiology (EP) study. An EP study can locate specific areas of heart
tissue that give rise to abnormal electrical impulses, which may be causing the ventricular
tachycardia. This information is used to determine the best treatment.
How is it treated?
If you are having symptoms and are in a sustained tachycardia,
it is a medical emergency. You will need immediate treatment. You may need CPR or a shock from an automatic defibrillator
(also known as an AED). Paramedics or your doctor may try intravenous medicines or
electrical cardioversion to return your heart to a normal rhythm.
the arrhythmia from recurring, you may need to take antiarrhythmic medicines.
In some cases a procedure
called catheter ablation is used to destroy small areas of heart tissue responsible
for the arrhythmia. Catheter ablation might make the arrhythmia happen less often
or stop the arrhythmia from happening again.footnote 1
It is very important
that any causes of ventricular tachycardia be identified and treated, if possible.
For example, if the ventricular tachycardia results from a medicine, the medicine
needs to be stopped.
What precautions should you
Call 911 or other emergency
services immediately if you have palpitations, dizziness, near-fainting, or chest
Talk with your doctor before changing your diet. If you want to
lose weight, do not use diets that rely on a liquid-based program or a high-protein
regimen. These types of diets can affect the concentrations of electrolytes in your
blood. This can, in turn, cause problems with your heart.
Ask your doctorwhen you can drive again. If you have had an episode of ventricular tachycardia
or ventricular fibrillation, your doctor may recommend that you don't drive a car
for a few months. This precaution is to make sure you don't have any other episodes
that could make driving unsafe. Right after you get an ICD implanted, you will not
drive for at least a few days.
Travel safely. It is safe for most people
with arrhythmias to travel. Plan ahead to travel safely. For example, plan to wear a medical alert bracelet and to bring
enough medicine for the length of your trip.
Know how tolive well with an ICD. This includes getting your device checked regularly,
avoiding strong electric or magnetic fields, exercising safely, and knowing what to
do if you get a shock.
Tools help you make wise health decisions or take action to improve your health.
Decision Points focus on key medical care decisions that are important to many
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Staff Primary Medical ReviewerRakesh
K. Pai, MD - Cardiology, Electrophysiology Martin
J. Gabica, MD - Family Medicine E. Gregory Thompson,
MD - Internal Medicine Adam Husney, MD - Family
Medicine Specialist Medical ReviewerJohn M. Miller, MD, FACC - Cardiology, Electrophysiology
EM, et al. (2009). EHRA/HRS expert consensus on catheter ablation of ventricular arrhythmias.
Heart Rhythm, 6(6): 886-933.
This information does not replace the advice of a doctor.
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