What Is Ventricular Tachycardia?

Illustration of ventricular tachycardia ECG

The ventricles are the two lower chambers of your heart, and they help circulate blood throughout the body. A normal resting heart beats at a rate of 60-100 times per minute. If you have ventricular tachycardia, your ventricles generate a much faster heart rate than normal – many patients experiencing heart rates in the range of 170 or more beats per minute.

What Causes Ventricular Tachycardia?

In most people, ventricular tachycardia develops as a result of other heart problems such as high blood pressure, cardiomyopathy (enlarged heart), heart valve disease or coronary artery disease. If you've had a heart attack or heart surgery, scar tissue on your heart can contribute to ventricular tachycardia. If you're older or have a family history of heart rhythm disorders, you're more likely to develop ventricular tachycardia.

It's unusual for someone without existing heart problems to develop ventricular tachycardia, but it can be caused by:

  • Certain medications
  • Electrolyte imbalance
  • Excessive caffeine or alcohol use
  • Recreational drugs
  • Exercise
  • Some genetically transmitted conditions

What are the Symptoms of Ventricular Tachycardia?

When your heart is beating as rapidly as it does during an episode of ventricular tachycardia, your blood pressure will drop and your heart won't be able to pump enough oxygen to every part of your body. This is what causes the symptoms.

Signs and symptoms of ventricular tachycardia include:

  • Fainting
  • Dizziness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Lightheadedness
  • Heart palpitations
  • Chest pain
  • Rapid pulse

Diagnosis of Ventricular Tachycardia

Most cases of ventricular tachycardia are diagnosed through an electrocardiogram (ECG/EKG), which measures the electrical activity of the heart. You will have an EKG in the office. If your physician wants a more detailed evaluation of your heart's rhythm, you may be required to wear a portable EKG called a Holter monitor for a period of 24-48 hours.

Treatment at Penn

Antiarrhythmic medications may be all you need to help control your condition.

However, if your ventricular tachycardia can't be controlled with medication alone, know that Penn Medicine is a national and international leader the most common treatments for ventricular tachycardia – implantable cardio defibrillators (ICD) and 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 Ventricular Tachycardia

Penn Cardiac Electrophysiologist with patient
Cardiac Arrhythmia

Internationally recognized program for diagnosing, treating and researching cardiac arrhythmias

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