Supraventricular tachycardia is an abnormal heart rhythm in which your heart beats faster than usual. The term has Latin roots. “Supra” means above, and “ventricular” refers to the lower chambers of your heart. Thus “supraventricular” means above your ventricles.
“Tachycardia” means an increase in your heart rate. Most individuals who suffer from supraventricular tachycardia may not require treatment. However, for others, lifestyle modifications, medications, and specific heart procedures may be necessary to eliminate this dysrhythmia and its associated complications.
What is Supraventricular Tachycardia
In supraventricular tachycardia, your heart can beat up to 150 to 220 beats per minute or even faster or slower. Normally, electrical signals in your heart cause the atria (upper chamber) and then the ventricles (lower chamber) to contract and pump blood out to your body. However, in supraventricular tachycardia, these electrical signals are abnormal, causing your heart to beat faster than average.
What are the Symptoms of Supraventricular Tachycardia?
Symptoms occur because your heart does not have adequate time to refill and push blood to your body. Following signs are seen in supraventricular tachycardia.
- Rapid heartbeat
- Chest pain
- Pounding in your chest (palpitations)
- Shortness of breath
- Near fainting or fainting (syncope)
What are the Causes of Supraventricular Tachycardia?
Supraventricular tachycardia usually occurs when the electrical signals which control your heart rhythm work erratically. Due to this, your heart may beat faster than usual. In some cases, you may be born with abnormal pathways in your heart. Post-surgical scar tissue may also be a causative factor for these abnormal electrical pathways.
When Should you Consult a Doctor?
Supraventricular tachycardia though not life-threatening, may cause fainting or cardiac arrest in some cases. If your abnormal heartbeat continues for more than a few seconds or the first time you are experiencing this abnormal heart rhythm, you should seek medical help. If you face symptoms such as chest pain, dizziness, weakness, or shortness of breath, seek urgent medical help.
What is the Treatment for Supraventricular Tachycardia?
Supraventricular tachycardia usually does not require any treatment. However, if you are facing frequent episodes, your doctor may advise the following treatment.
- Your doctor does a carotid sinus massage over the carotid artery in your neck area to slow down your heart rate.
- Vagal maneuvers such as coughing, breath-holding, or straining like you are passing stools, or dunking your face in ice water, can help slow your heart rate by stimulating your vagus nerve (the nerve which controls your heartbeat)
- Cardioversion is a procedure performed by your doctor if a vagal maneuver fails to slow down your heart rate. It involves shock delivered to your heart to restore your normal heart rhythm.
- Medications to restore your heart rate or control your abnormal heart rhythm
- Catheter ablation uses catheters (thin, flexible tubes) through your blood vessels, which deliver heat or cold, creating tiny scars to restore your normal heart rhythm.
- A pacemaker is a small and implantable device that stimulates your heart to beat normally. In this minor surgical procedure, the pacemaker gets placed under your skin near the collarbone.
Supraventricular tachycardia usually occurs when your heart beats faster than normal. Though it may not require treatment, some individuals may need treatment to improve their outcomes. In addition, certain lifestyle changes like exercising, consuming a heart-healthy diet that contains more vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and less salt and saturated fats, limiting alcohol and smoking, and following up with your doctor regularly can also help you control the symptoms of supraventricular tachycardia.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What are the Risk Factors for Supraventricular Tachycardia?
Drinking excess caffeine, alcohol, smoking, taking too much stress, certain drugs like cocaine, crystal meth, certain medications like asthma drugs, decongestants, thyroid disease, pregnancy, and heart or lung diseases are some of the risk factors that increase your chances of getting supraventricular tachycardia.
What are the Complications of Supraventricular Tachycardia?
If frequent episodes of supraventricular tachycardia are left untreated, it may weaken your heart leading to heart failure, especially if you have other concurrent medical conditions. In addition, cardiac arrest or unconsciousness may also occur in severe episodes of supraventricular tachycardia.
How can you Prevent Supraventricular Tachycardia?
By exercising to maintain a healthy body weight, eating a heart-healthy diet, maintaining good blood pressure and cholesterol levels, avoiding smoking and drinking alcohol, reducing stress, resting adequately, using caution with over-the-counter medications, and avoiding stimulant drugs like cocaine and methamphetamine can help prevent episodes of supraventricular tachycardia.