Key Points about Ventricular Tachycardia (VT)

  • Ventricular tachycardia (VT) is a type of abnormal heart rhythm where your body does not receive an adequate supply of oxygenated blood
  • Ventricular tachycardia is generally caused by a heart condition such as a heart attack, congenital heart defect, hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, myocarditis, or heart surgery
  • Treatment for ventricular tachycardia varies based on the severity of your case
  • If left untreated, ventricular tachycardia complications could include fainting spells or unconsciousness, heart failure, and sudden death

Overview

Ventricular tachycardia is an abnormally fast heart rate that originates in the ventricles, the heart's lower chambers. When this occurs, the body does not receive enough oxygenated blood.

While a normal heartbeat comes from the sinus node, the heart's upper right chamber, a ventricular start in the lower chambers and is fast. VTs that only last a few seconds can be harmless. If they continue, they can cause you to feel lightheaded or faint. VT can lead to ventricular fibrillation and cardiac arrest.

Ventricular tachycardia causes

In most cases, ventricular tachycardia is caused by heart disease, including:

  • Heart attack
  • Congenital heart defect
  • Hypertrophic or dilated cardiomyopathy
  • Myocarditis
  • Heart surgery

Other causes of ventricular tachycardia include:

  • Long QT syndrome
  • Brugada syndrome
  • Antiarrhythmic medicines
  • Antibiotics
  • Herbal remedies that contain ephedra

In some cases, the cause of ventricular tachycardia is unknown.

Ventricular tachycardia risk factors

Factors that increase your likelihood of experiencing ventricular tachycardia include:

  • Abnormal heart valves
  • Heart failure
  • Heart attack
  • Coronary artery disease
  • Cardiomyopathy
  • Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy
  • Sarcoidosis
  • Long QT syndrome
  • Brugada syndrome

Ventricular tachycardia symptoms

The primary symptom of VT is an abnormally fast heartbeat, which often lasts for only a few seconds. If the rapid heart rate lasts longer, it can be extremely dangerous because the body cannot get the blood it needs to function.

Other symptoms of VT include:

  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Chest pain
  • Neck tightness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fainting
  • Heart attack

Some patients do not experience any symptoms.

Ventricular tachycardia complications

Complications associated with ventricular tachycardia include:

  • Fainting spells or unconsciousness
  • Heart failure
  • Sudden death from a heart attack

The severity of your complications varies based on how often the VT occurs and your overall health.

Ventricular tachycardia diagnosis

Your doctor can diagnose ventricular tachycardia with a thorough physical exam, medical history, and diagnostic testing.

Diagnostic testing may include:

  • Electrocardiogram — the most common test used to diagnose ventricular tachycardia, an EKG will record your heart's electrical activity to help your doctor understand your case's severity
  • Holter monitor — used to track your heart rhythm at home, your doctor will ask you to wear a monitor for 24 - 48 hours to record episodes you experience over a longer period
  • Electrophysiology tests — your doctor may recommend electrophysiology testing to create a map of your heart’s electrical impulses to understand where the electrical issues originate

Ventricular tachycardia treatment

The goal of treatment for ventricular tachycardia is to manage any condition causing your symptoms to prevent irregular heartbeats from returning.

If your ventricular tachycardia becomes an emergency, you may need CPR, electrical defibrillation, or IV medications to slow your heart rate.

Treatments for non-emergencies include:

  • Radiofrequency catheter ablation (RCA) — the goal of RFA is to ablate the area of the heart muscle where the abnormal rhythm originates. In many cases, the ablation cures the abnormal rhythm where no other treatment is needed.
  • Implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD) — an ICD is implanted under the skin and is used to control your heart's rhythm. If the device detects an abnormality, it will work to get your heart back to its normal rhythm. Research has shown that an ICD can prevent life-threatening ventricular tachycardias.
  • Medication — your doctor may prescribe medications to slow your heart rate.

When to seek care

Schedule an appointment with your doctor if you have symptoms of ventricular tachycardia. There are a variety of conditions that cause tachycardia type symptoms, so it is important to get an early intervention to avoid potential complications.

If you are experiencing chest pain or are having difficulty breathing, seek immediate emergency care.