What Is Supraventricular Tachycardia?

ECG displaying supraventricular tachycardia

When your heart experiences a disruption of electrical activity, it can beat extremely fast – sometimes up to 300 beats per minute. Not a product of strenuous exercise, stress or high fever, supraventricular tachycardia can happen at any time, often starting and ending very suddenly. Outside of these episodes, your heart functions normally and is able to pump blood throughout the body.

Types of Supraventricular Tachycardia

This rapid heart rate originates in the upper chambers of your heart. There are a several types of supraventricular tachycardia including:

  • Atrial Fibrillation The heart's upper chambers beat irregularly.
  • Atrioventricular Nodal Reentrant Tachycardia (AVNRT): Caused by an abnormal or extra electrical pathway in the heart, which produces a type of short circuit and causes an abnormally fast heart rate.
  • Atrioventricular Reciprocating Tachycardia (AVRT):  This occurs when you have an extra electrical pathway linking the upper and lower chambers of the heart.
  • Paroxsymal Supraventricular Tachycardia (PSVT): Commonly misdiagnosed as a panic attack, this can occur in conjunction with Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome, a condition where you have extra electrical pathways in your heart.

What are the Symptoms of Supraventricular Tachycardia?

With supraventricular tachycardia, you can experience any of the following symptoms:

  • Racing heartbeat.
  • Fluttering heartbeat.
  • Tightness or discomfort in your chest.
  • Lightheadedness.
  • Dizziness.
  • Fainting.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Pounding pulse.

Your symptoms can come on suddenly and ease by themselves. Symptoms can last anywhere from one minute to a few days.

Diagnosis of Supraventricular Tachycardia

Diagnosis of Supraventricular Tachycardia

Once you report your symptoms to your physician, you will undergo a series of tests which, depending on your condition, may include:

  • Electrocardiogram (EKG): checks the electric activity of your heart.
  • Ambulatory Electrocardiogram: Because the symptoms come on at irregular times, you may be required to wear a Holter Monitor for a period of 1-2 days to record your heart's rhythm.
  • Echocardiogram (ECHO): A non invasive sonogram of your heart.
  • Stress Test: An EKG performed both when the heart is at rest and when it is stressed, usually during exercise such as running on a treadmill.
  • Cardiac Catheterization: Catheterization is perfumed under local anesthesia determine the health of your heart and its valves.
  • Coronary Angiography: This test uses dye to highlight blockage and damage in the arteries.
  • Electrophysiologic Study: This test requires the placement of electrodes into the heart chambers to record the electrical activity in your heart.

Once a detailed diagnosis is reached, your physician will determine the best treatment options for you.

Treatment at Penn

If you are having ongoing symptoms of supraventricular tachycardia, you may need to take medications such as beta-blockers, calcium channel blockers or other antiarrhythmic medicines.

Regular medications may be all you need to help you control your supraventricular tachycardia.

Some patients require a catheter ablation to treat the condition. If you require an ablation, know that Penn is a national leader in catheter ablations.

When you choose Penn Medicine, you're choosing to work with a dedicated team of cardiologists and electrophysiologists who have pioneered and long perfected these treatments, leading the field in new research and innovation.

Penn Programs & Services for Supraventricular Tachycardia

Penn Cardiac Electrophysiologist with patient
Cardiac Arrhythmia

Internationally recognized program for diagnosing, treating and researching cardiac arrhythmias

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