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Paroxysmal supraventricular tachycardia (PSVT)


Definition:

Paroxysmal supraventricular tachycardia (PSVT) is episodes of rapid heart rate that start in a part of the heart above the ventricles. "Paroxysmal" means from time to time.

Alternative Names:

PSVT; Supraventricular tachycardia

Symptoms:

Symptoms most often start and stop suddenly. They can last for a few minutes or several hours. Symptoms may include:

Other symptoms that can occur with this condition:

Treatment:

PSVT that occurs only once in a while may not need treatment if you don't have symptoms or other heart problems.

You can try the following techniques to interrupt a fast heartbeat during an episode of PSVT:

  • Valsalva maneuver. To do this, you hold your breath and strain, as if you were trying to have a bowel movement.
  • Coughing while sitting with your upper body bent forward.
  • Splashing ice water on your face

You should avoid smoking, caffeine, alcohol, and illicit drugs.

Emergency treatment to slow the heartbeat back to normal may include:

  • Electrical cardioversion, the use of electric shock
  • Medicines through a vein

Long-term treatment for people who have repeat episodes of PSVT, or who also have heart disease, may include:

  • Cardiac ablation, a procedure used to destroy small areas in your heart that may be causing the rapid heartbeat (currently the treatment of choice for most PSVTs)
  • Daily medications to prevent repeat episodes
  • Pacemakers to override the fast heartbeat (on occasion may be used in children with PSVT who have not responded to any other treatment)
  • Surgery to change the pathways in the heart that send electrical signals (this may be recommended in some cases for people who need other heart surgery)
Outlook (Prognosis):

PSVT is generally not life threatening. If other heart disorders are present, it can lead to congestive heart failure or angina.

When to Contact a Medical Professional:

Call your health care provider if:

  • You have a sensation that your heart is beating quickly and the symptoms do not end on their own in a few minutes.
  • You have a history of PSVT and an episode does not go away with the Valsalva maneuver or by coughing.
  • You have other symptoms with the rapid heart rate.
  • Symptoms return often.
  • New symptoms develop.

It is especially important to call if you also have other heart problems.

References:

Olgin JE, Zipes DP. Specific arrhythmias: diagnosis and treatment. In: Bonow RO, Mann DL, Zipes DP, Libby P, eds. Braunwald's Heart Disease: A Textbook of Cardiovascular Medicine. 9th ed. St. Louis, MO: WB Saunders; 2011:chap 39.

Zimetbaum P. Cardiac arrhythmia with supraventricular origin. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman's Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 64.


Review Date: 5/13/2014
Reviewed By: Michael A. Chen, MD, PhD, Associate Professor of Medicine, Division of Cardiology, Harborview Medical Center, University of Washington Medical School, Seattle, Washington. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed physician should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. Copyright 2002 A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.

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