Ventricular tachycardia is a condition which is characterized by abnormally rapid heartbeats. The fast heart rhythm originates from one of the ventricles. If left untreated, it can turn life-threatening. The following write-up gives information on its symptoms and treatment.
Ventricular tachycardia is the fast but regular heart rhythm originating from one of the ventricles (the two lower chambers of the heart that pump blood from the heart to the body). This condition could lead to rapid, uncoordinated contractions of the ventricles (ventricular fibrillation), which could further lead to fast and irregular heartbeats.
Normally, a healthy (non-athlete) person has the resting heart rate (heart rate when the person is in a state of rest; like after getting up from sleep in the morning) ranging from 60 – 100 beats per minute, but people affected by this condition have a resting heart rate of more than 100 beats per minute. In this condition, the heart rate can be so fast that the ventricles quiver, which in turn might lead to cardiac arrest and death in the absence of prompt treatment. In some cases, the affected individual may not experience any symptoms or complications. However, there is an increased risk of the heart function getting adversely affected.
In ventricular tachycardia, rapid electric signals produced in the ventricles give rise to increased heart rate, which in turn hampers the normal functioning of the ventricles. The rapid heartbeat causes the ventricles to contract faster than normal, and the ventricles may not have enough time to fill up properly with blood, thereby restricting the supply of oxygenated blood to the organs.
The common symptoms include:
- Shortness of breath
- Rapid pulse rate
- Flopping sensation in the chest
- Fainting sensation (syncope)
- Chest pain (angina)
These symptoms may start and stop suddenly, and in some cases, the condition might be asymptomatic.
There could be several factors which could hamper the normal heartbeat. Common causes include:
- Abnormality in the anatomy of the heart (present from birth)
- Alcohol abuse
- Drug abuse
- Heart disease
- High caffeine consumption
- High blood pressure
- Imbalance of electrolyte, which is responsible for the generation of electric impulses
- Side effects of some drugs
The treatment involves reducing the fast heart rate, trying to prevent future flare-ups, and helping to minimize the chances of complications. In addition to drug therapy and medical procedures, performing physical movements (vagal maneuvers) might help.
During the attack, patients are advised to do vagal maneuvers to regulate the heartbeat and stabilize the pulse rate. These include coughing intentionally, gagging, and immersing one’s face in ice-cold water .
If the aforementioned steps do not help, then patients may be prescribed anti-arrhythmic injection, which helps restore normal heartbeat. In case of an emergency, patient may be treated with shocks (electrical defibrillation) which are directed to the heart. These shocks decrease the electric impulse generation, thereby stabilizing the heart rate.
For preventing future occurrences, doctors may prescribe anti-arrhythmic medications and calcium channel blockers. In cases wherein the aforementioned methods do not work, doctors may even suggest open heart surgery.
Following a healthy diet and exercise regimen, and keeping a check on blood pressure and blood cholesterol levels can help in lowering the risk of this condition. Shunning smoking, keeping a check on alcohol consumption, avoiding use of recreational drugs, and reducing the intake of caffeine-based products will also prove beneficial.
Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is solely for educating the reader. It is not intended to be a substitute for the advice of a medical expert.