Ventricular Tachycardia Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment

Tachycardia is a general term used to describe a heart that beats too fast, which is typically classified as beating more than 100 beats per minute. Ventricular tachycardia is a specific type where the issue originates with abnormal electrical signals in the lower chambers, or ventricles, of the heart

Overview of ventricular tachycardia

When a heart is functioning normally, the heartbeat originates in the upper chambers of the heart, or atria. With ventricular tachycardia (sometimes called VT or v-tach), electrical signals cause the heart to beat in the lower chambers as well, which means the lower chambers beat out of sync with the upper chambers. 

When the chambers are beating out of sync, your heart may not be able to pump adequate blood to your lungs and your body. In some cases, ventricular tachycardia can cause cardiac arrest, which is a sudden stoppage of the heart that requires emergency medical attention. 

Symptoms of ventricular tachycardia

In some patients, ventricular tachycardia may last only a few seconds and not cause any noticeable symptoms. In other cases, it can cause patients to feel dizzy or lightheaded, and it can even lead to passing out. You may also have chest pain or heart palpitations, where your heart feels like it’s racing. 

Causes of ventricular tachycardia

Ventricular tachycardia typically happens in people who already have a known heart condition, such as coronary artery disease or cardiomyopathy, where the heart muscle thickens or becomes rigid. Prior heart attacks or heart surgery can also increase your chances of ventricular tachycardia. 

Some patients without a known history of heart disease also develop ventricular tachycardia. This may occur due to an electrolyte imbalance, a genetic disorder, some types of medications, recreational drug use or too much alcohol or caffeine. 

Diagnosing ventricular tachycardia

Your Oklahoma Heart Hospital physician will discuss your symptoms and medical history with you and run some tests to determine if you have ventricular tachycardia. The most common diagnostic test is an electrocardiogram, or ECG, which records the electrical activity of your heart. You may be asked to wear a heart monitor at home for a day or two, and your doctor may order electrophysiology testing. This specialized testing maps the electrical signals in your heart by using a catheter and small electrodes placed directly on your heart.

Treatment of ventricular tachycardia

If an underlying cardiac condition is causing your ventricular tachycardia, it’s important to treat that condition first with medication or lifestyle changes as directed by your doctor.  In some patients, treating the underlying condition prevents ventricular tachycardia from happening in the future. 

Other treatment options for ventricular tachycardia include catheter ablation, placement of a defibrillator, or medications.  

The catheter ablation procedure uses a catheter with a high frequency electrical current to destroy a small amount of tissue where the abnormal rhythm begins. For some patients, the ablation procedure completely cures the abnormal heart rhythm and no other treatment is necessary. 

In other cases, patients will need an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD), which constantly monitors and helps regulate their heart rhythm. Other patients may simply need to take an antiarrhythmic medication to slow their heartbeat. 

If you are experiencing heart palpitations, dizziness, or lightheadedness, contact the Oklahoma Heart Hospital today to schedule an appointment with one of your physicians.