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Supraventricular Tachycardia (SVT)

Supraventricular tachycardia (SVT) refers to a fast heart rhythm (tachycardia) that originates above the ventricles of the heart (supraventricular). Typically, this rapid heart rhythm starts and stops abruptly. It is also referred to as paroxysmal supraventricular tachycardia or PSVT, since paroxysm refers to a sudden attack, though in this case the outcome is typically benign.
SVT is the result of an aberration in the electrical system of the heart. The heart is "wired" to stimulate the heart to beat in an organized, predictable manner. It has a natural pacemaker, called the sinus node, which, under normal circumstances stimulates the heart to beat. In SVT, the normal sequence of events is altered.

What are the symptoms of SVT?

Some people who have an attack of SVT experience no symptoms, while others may feel their heart beating very fast or feel like their heart is skipping a beat. Lightheadedness, fatigue, and dizziness may also accompany SVT. Chest discomfort may occur as well.

How is this condition diagnosed?

A doctor can perform a routine EKG to diagnose SVT. However, even in a person prone to attacks of SVT, a "routine" EKG is likely to miss the condition unless it is performed during an attack. Between attacks of SVT the EKG may be perfectly normal. Other procedures which record the heart's rhythm for longer periods of time, such as a holter monitor or an event or loop monitor, may be worn by the patient for an extended period of time and may pick up an attack of SVT when a person is going about her daily activities.

How is SVT treated?

Easy maneuvers may terminate an attack of SVT in some cases. Coughing, bearing down like you are going to have a bowel movement, and even placing an ice pack on your face may impact the nerve pathways involved in SVT and thus slow down the heart rate.

Medications, such as an IV drug called Adenosine, may be given to abort an attack. Sometimes doctors prescribe an oral medication to help control the heart rate. Should the heart rate become very high and cause concerning signs and symptoms, such as a very low blood pressure or confusion, the doctor may perform emergent cardioversion by putting paddles on the chest and delivering a burst of energy to the heart. Some patients are even referred to undergo an ablation procedure, during which the small part of the heart that is sending aberrant electrical signals that triggers the SVT is ablated, or destroyed.

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Content copyright © 2018 by Maria Hester, MD. All rights reserved.
This content was written by Maria Hester, MD. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact Maria Hester, MD for details.


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