What is Ventricular Tachycardia (VT)? | Revere Health

In a healthy human heart, electrical signals are sent across tissues in the heart to control the way the heart beats. If these electrical signals are abnormal in the lower chambers (ventricles) of the heart, a disorder called ventricular tachycardia has developed. Also called V-tach or VT, ventricular tachycardia causes the heart to beat faster than normal. This can affect your heart’s ability to pump enough blood to the rest of the body.

Here are some basic facts about VT, related conditions and the heart’s electrical system.

The Heart and Its Electrical System

The heart has four chambers: two upper chambers (called atria) and two lower chambers (called ventricles). The heart’s rhythm is normally controlled by the sinus node, which is something of a natural pacemaker—it’s located in the right atrium, and produces electrical impulses that prompt heartbeats.

These impulses travel across the atria, causing the muscles to contract and pump blood into the ventricles. The impulses then travel to the atrioventricular (AV) node, which is a cluster of cells that allows signals to travel to the ventricles. The AV node slows down the signal allowing them to fill with blood. When the impulses finally reach the ventricles, they contract and pump blood to the lungs or the rest of the body.

Ventricular Tachycardia and Fibrillation

If anything disrupts the heart’s delicate process, the heart can begin to beat too fast (tachycardia), too slow (bradycardia) or with an abnormal rhythm. VT can last for anywhere from just a few seconds to much longer and may range from causing no symptoms to causing several. It can even cause the heart to stop in some cases, especially among people with a previous heart condition.

A dangerous condition that relates to VT is ventricular fibrillation or V-fib. During V-fib, the lower heart chambers contract in a rapid and uncoordinated way. It is most common in people with prior heart disease or heart attack. It can cause sudden cardiac arrest and death if it isn’t immediately treated.

Symptoms and Complications

In some cases, brief episodes of VT might not cause symptoms. In other cases, symptoms may include:

  • •Dizziness
  • •Shortness of breath
  • •Lightheadedness
  • •Heart palpitations (feeling like the heart is racing)
  • •Chest pain (angina)
  • •Seizures
  • •Loss of consciousness, fainting or cardiac arrest and possible death (for sustained or more serious episodes of VT)
  • It’s vital to get prompt diagnosis and care if you or your child has VT symptoms. If you faint, have trouble breathing or have chest pain for more than a few minutes, call 911 or seek emergency care.
  • Complications of VT can vary in severity and may include:
  • •Heart failure
  • •Frequent fainting or unconsciousness
  • •Sudden death due to cardiac arrest

Causes and Risk Factors

VT is caused by a disruption in the heart’s electrical system. Causes of this disruption can include:

  • •Lack of oxygen to the heart after tissue damage from heart disease
  • •Abnormal electrical pathways present at birth
  • •Cardiomyopathy (structural heart disease)
  • •Medication side effects
  • •Sarcoidosis (an inflammatory disease that affects skin or other bodily tissues)
  • •Abuse of recreational drugs
  • •Imbalance of electrolytes, which are necessary for conducting electrical impulses

In some cases, known as idiopathic ventricular tachycardia, no exact cause of VT can be determined. Factors that may increase the risk of VT can generally be impacted by lifestyle changes or medical treatment, and they include:

  • •Heart disease
  • •Recreational drug use
  • •Severe electrolyte abnormalities
  • •Side effects of medication
  • •Family history may also play a role

Prevention

The best way to prevent VT is to reduce your risk of heart disease, or to monitor it and follow a treatment plan if you already have heart disease. Try to treat or eliminate factors that might lead to heart disease. Some steps include:

  • •Maintain a healthy exercise routine and diet: Exercise regularly and eat a diet that’s low in fat and rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
  • •Maintain a healthy weight: Being overweight raises your risk of heart conditions.
  • •Monitor your blood pressure and cholesterol: Make lifestyle changes or take medication to lower high blood pressure or high cholesterol.
  • •Quit smoking.
  • •Reduce your alcohol consumption: If you choose to drink alcohol, do it in moderation. Up to one drink a day for women of all ages and men over 65, and up to two drinks a day for men 65 and under. Ask your doctor if you have any medical conditions, as it’s possible you should avoid alcohol altogether.
  • •Do not use recreational drugs, such as cocaine.
  • •Be careful when taking over-the-counter meds: Use these with caution, as some may trigger a rapid heartbeat.
  • •Limit caffeine and stress.
  • •Go to scheduled doctor checkups, and report any signs or symptoms of VT to your doctor.

If you’re exhibiting symptoms of ventricular tachycardia, your doctor can offer a diagnosis and treatment options.

Revere Health Imaging offers the most advanced imaging technology in Utah Valley with convenient locations and reduced-cost exams. We even offer our imaging services at night for your convenience. Contact us today at 801-812-4624 for an appointment!

This information is not intended to replace the advice of a medical professional. You should always consult your doctor before making decisions about your health.

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