Ventricular Tachycardia (VT)

Ventricular tachycardia (VT) is a rapid heart rate that originates in the lower chambers of the heart, or ventricles, due to a malfunction of the heart's electrical system. VT is defined by a pulse of more than 100 beats per minute with at least three irregular heartbeats in a row. The heart may beat inefficiently which can result in the body not receiving an adequate blood supply.

VT can be harmless if it lasts only a few beats, but if it continues and is untreated, it can be life-threatening and cause sudden cardiac death.

Symptoms, Causes and Diagnosis of VT

Symptoms of VT can include a feeling of a racing heart or that the heart is going to burst, lightheadedness and fatigue, chest pain and anxiety. Treatments depend on the symptoms and underlying cause. VT can also occur without any symptoms.

Although VT can occur without heart disease, it is most common in people who have damage to their heart muscle (from a heart attack or other disease), which creates abnormal electrical pathways in the ventricles.

Some forms of VT are inherited, including catecholaminergic polymorphic VT and arrhythmogenic right ventricular dysplasia (ARVD).

If you have a history of VT, you may not require any treatment. In other cases, you may need a device implanted to automatically stop the tachycardia, or rapid heart rate, when it starts.

Common risk factors include coronary artery disease, hardening or narrowing of the arteries which supply blood to the heart; family history of VT; and having had a previous heart attack.

Your doctor can diagnose VT by physical exam and certain tests:

  • An electrocardiogram (ECG), which will highlight any abnormalities
  • A transesophageal echocardiograph, in which a ultrasound probe is inserted in the esophagus to provide images as well as better sound
  • Cardiac magnetic resonance imaging (CMRI), which is an MRI scan of the heart

Treatment and Prevention

Treatments for VT are aimed at immediately restoring a normal heart rhythm and preventing future episodes.

In an emergency, treatments include CPR, electrical defibrillation, electric shock and medicine given intravenously.

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