Ventricular tachycardia is a type of heart rhythm disorder (arrhythmia) that begins in the lower chambers of the heart (ventricles). It is a fast pulse rate of more than 100 beats per minute with at least three irregular heartbeats in a row.
The main cause of ventricular tachycardia is a problem in the heart’s electrical system, which controls the heart rhythm. In this instance, the heart is unable to pump enough blood to the body and lungs because the chambers are beating at such a fast rate that they don’t have enough time to fill properly.
Ventricular tachycardia is also associated with other heart conditions such as coronary artery disease, cardiomyopathy and some types of valvular heart disease.
Left untreated, ventricular tachycardia can lead to serious complications such as ventricular fibrillation, which is the leading cause of sudden cardiac death.
Common signs and symptoms of ventricular tachycardia include:
- Pressure in the chest
- Chest pain
- Heart palpitations
- Shortness of breath
- Weak pulse or no pulse
Ventricular tachycardia can develop as an early or late complication of a heart attack, as well as after heart surgery because of the formation of scar tissue in the muscle of the ventricles. It is also likely to occur in individuals with certain medical conditions such as: Cardiomyopathy, Myocarditis, Valvular heart disease, heart failure and heart surgery.
Common causes of ventricular tachycardia include:
- The use of certain antiarrhythmic medications
- The use of illegal drugs
- Excessive alcohol or caffeine consumption
- Intense exercise
- Lack of oxygen
- Changes in blood chemistry
- Changes in pH
Factors that can increase the risk of developing ventricular tachycardia include the following:
- Being of older age
- Having a family history of heart rhythm disorders
- Having a personal history of heart rhythm disorders
A possible complication that can arise from ventricular tachycardia includes:
- Sudden cardiac death
Treatment options for ventricular tachycardia aim restore normal heart rhythm, regulate the heart rate and prevent further episodes from occuring. Treatment of an underlying cause of ventricular tachycardia such as a heart attack or electrolyte disturbances is also important in order to prevent further complications.
Common treatment methods include:
- Anti-arrhythmic medications: Medications given through a vein to help slow down and restore normal heart rate.
- An implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD): A specialized device designed to monitor and control the heart’s rhythm in order to prevent ventricular tachycardia.
- Cardioversion: A procedure which involves delivering electrical shocks to the heart through patches on the chest in order to trigger normal heart rhythm.
- Catheter ablation: A surgical procedure that involves removing any faulty electrical pathway accountable for an increased heart rate.
- Pacemaker: A surgical procedure that involves the implantation of a small device under the skin to help sense any changes in the heartbeat and trigger electrical impulses to help resume a normal heart beat.
Although there is no sure way to prevent ventricular tachycardia, in certain cases treating underlying heart problems and avoiding certain medications can help prevent ventricular tachycardia.