What is Ventricular Tachycardia (VT)?
Ventricular tachycardia, also known as VT, is an abnormal heart rhythm that originates in the heart’s ventricles (lower chambers). During a ventricular tachycardia episode, your body does not receive enough oxygenated blood to effectively supply the vital organs.
Ventricular tachycardia is commonly caused by heart conditions such as a heart attack, congenital heart defect, myocarditis, or hypertrophic cardiomyopathy.
The most common symptom of ventricular tachycardia is an abnormally fast heartbeat that lasts for a few seconds.
Causes of ventricular tachycardia (VT)
Ventricular tachycardia is an abnormally fast heart rate originating in the lower chambers of the heart. It is defined as a heart rate of more than 100 beats a minute with three irregular heartbeats in a row. During a VT episode, the heart may beat inefficiently, and vital organs may not receive adequate blood flow.
Ventricular tachycardia may occur when the heart’s normal electrical impulses that control the heart’s pumping action rate are disrupted.
Factors that contribute to ventricular tachycardia include:
- Structural heart disease potentially caused by a previous heart attack.
- Coronary artery disease that results in low blood flow in the heart.
- Congenital heart disease, such as long QT syndrome.
- Heart surgery.
- Hypertrophic or dilated cardiomyopathy.
Other causes of ventricular tachycardia include:
- Electrolyte imbalances.
- Side effects from medications such as antiarrhythmic medications or antibiotics.
- Herbal remedies that contain ephedra.
- Use of recreational drugs such as cocaine or crystal meth.
When the cause of your ventricular tachycardia cannot be determined, it is called idiopathic ventricular tachycardia.
Risk factors of ventricular tachycardia (VT)
Conditions that strain or damaged heart tissue, such as heart failure, heart attack, coronary artery disease, cardiomyopathy, electrolyte imbalances, or abnormal heart valves, can put you at greater risk of ventricular tachycardia.
Patients with a family history of heart rhythm disorders or ventricular tachycardia are more likely to experience the condition.
Medical treatment and lifestyle modifications can decrease your risk of ventricular tachycardia associated with heart disease.
You can reduce your risk of ventricular tachycardia by avoiding recreational drugs such as cocaine or methamphetamine and working with your doctor to ensure you are taking appropriate medications for your conditions.
Symptoms of ventricular tachycardia (VT)
The most common symptoms of ventricular tachycardia include:
- Heart palpitations (feeling as if your heart is racing).
- Shortness of breath.
- Chest pain.
More severe ventricular tachycardia episodes may lead to fainting or cardiac arrest.
Complications of ventricular tachycardia (VT)
Potential complications associated with ventricular tachycardia include:
- Heart failure.
- Frequent fainting spells or loss of consciousness.
- Sudden cardiac arrest.
The severity of your complications associated with ventricular tachycardia varies based on how fast your heart is beating, how long the episode is, how frequently you experience episodes, and your overall health.
Diagnosing ventricular tachycardia (VT)
Your doctor can diagnose ventricular tachycardia. During a clinic visit, your doctor will take your full medical history, perform a physical exam, and order diagnostic testing.
Tests used to diagnose ventricular tachycardia include:
- Electrocardiogram (EKG). An electrocardiogram is the most commonly used test to diagnose VT. An EKG records your heart’s electrical activity. Your doctor can determine the severity of your case by reviewing the EKG test results.
- Holter monitor. A Holter monitor is a portable EKG used to track your heart rhythm away from a clinic setting. The Holter monitor will record your heart’s electrical activity for 24-48 hours.
- Electrophysiology tests (EP tests). During an EP test, your electrophysiologist can create a map of your heart’s electrical impulses to determine where the electrical issues originate.
Treatment for ventricular tachycardia (VT)
Your cardiologist will develop a treatment plan for your specific case. The treatment goals are to restore your normal heart rhythm, manage underlying conditions causing your symptoms, and prevent arrhythmias from returning.
There are two types of ventricular tachycardia. Sustained ventricular tachycardia disrupts normal blood flow and requires immediate attention, while nonsustained ventricular tachycardia goes away on its own within 30 seconds.
If sustained VT cases, you may need immediate CPR, electrical defibrillation, cardioversion, or IV medications to slow your heart rate.
Treatments for nonsustained VT may include:
- Medical management. Your doctor can prescribe medications to slow your heart rate down.
- Radiofrequency catheter ablation (RFA). RFA is used to ablate the electrical pathway that is causing issues. Your doctor will ablate the pathway using extreme heat or cold and prevent it from sending abnormal electrical signals.
- Implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD). An ICD is a device implanted under the skin that is used to control the heart’s rhythm. When the ICD detects an abnormality, it will shock your heart back into its normal rhythm. ICDs are highly effective in preventing life-threatening ventricular tachycardias.
When to seek care
Schedule an appointment with your doctor if you are experiencing symptoms of VT. It is imperative to seek care early to avoid potentially fatal complications.
If you or a loved one is experiencing chest pain or are having trouble breathing, seek immediate medical care.