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Ventricular tachycardia is a very fast heart rhythm that begins in the ventricles. The ventricles are the two lower chambers of the heart. They fill with blood from the atria, or top chambers of the heart, and send it to the rest of the body. Ventricular tachycardia is a pulse of more than 100 beats per minute with at least three irregular heartbeats in a row. It is caused by a malfunction in the heart’s electrical system.
Your heart rate is controlled by electrical impulses that trigger each contraction and determine the rhythm of the heart. When this process is disrupted and the electrical signals are sent too quickly, ventricular tachycardia can occur. The rapid heartbeat doesn’t give the ventricles enough to time to fill with blood before the heart contracts. As a result, the heart may not be able to pump enough blood to the rest of the body.
Ventricular tachycardia may only last for a few seconds or for much longer. It doesn’t always cause symptoms, but when symptoms do occur, they may include lightheadedness, dizziness, and fainting. The condition most commonly affects people who have heart disorders, such as coronary artery disease and cardiomyopathy.
Ventricular tachycardia may eventually lead to ventricular fibrillation, which is characterized by a rapid, inadequate heart rhythm. In this condition, the heartbeat is so fast and irregular that it causes the heart to stop working. To prevent this complication from occurring, it’s important to get immediate treatment for ventricular tachycardia.
Symptoms of ventricular tachycardia include:
The exact cause of ventricular tachycardia isn’t always known. In most cases, however, it is triggered by another heart condition.
Known causes of ventricular tachycardia include:
Certain forms of ventricular tachycardia are inherited, which means they’re passed down from a parent to a child. These include:
In rare cases, ventricular tachycardia can be caused by certain medications, excessive caffeine or alcohol consumption, and intense exercise.
Classification of ventricular tachycardia is based on:
The types of ventricular tachycardia are as follows:
You may be more at risk for ventricular tachycardia if you:
Your doctor will make a diagnosis by performing a physical exam and running certain tests. During the exam, your doctor will listen to your heart and ask you about your symptoms. They’ll also check your pulse and blood pressure.
If ventricular tachycardia is suspected, your doctor will order certain tests. These may include:
The goal of treatment is to correct the heart rhythm immediately and to prevent future episodes. In an emergency, treatment for ventricular tachycardia may include:
Long-term treatment may include oral antiarrhythmic medication. However, these drugs aren’t always prescribed because they can cause severe side effects. Other long-term treatment options include:
The outlook for people with ventricular tachycardia is usually good if treatment is received quickly. When the disorder goes untreated, however, people are at a greater risk for sudden cardiac arrest and other serious conditions. Implanted devices can help prevent complications from occurring. Once in place, these devices can keep the heart beating and functioning properly.
Written by: Lydia Krause
Medically reviewed on: Jan 11, 2016: Debra Sullivan, PhD, MSN, RN, CNE, COI
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