Supraventricular tachycardia: what it is, symptoms, causes and treatment


Supraventricular tachycardia is a disorder that causes changes in electrical impulses in the upper part of the heart, called the atrium, causing an increase in heart rate and may lead to symptoms such as palpitation, dizziness, a feeling of heaviness in the chest, tiredness or shortness of breath.

This tachycardia can be favored by family history or happen due to some situations, such as stress, bronchitis and excessive consumption of alcohol or caffeine, for example. Know other causes of tachycardia.

Confirmation of supraventricular tachycardia can be done through a physical examination, where the doctor may also order some tests, such as electrocardiogram and Holter monitoring, to assess the causes and indicate the appropriate treatment, which may involve the use of medication or the performance of some procedures such as placement of a pacemaker or catheter ablation, for example.

Symptoms of supraventricular tachycardia

Some people with supraventricular tachycardia may not have any signs or symptoms. However, most people with this change have arrhythmia, which is the change in the rhythm of the heartbeat, with an increase in heart rate with 100 beats per minute or more, which can happen suddenly and stop, lasting a few minutes or even a few days, causing signs and symptoms, such as:

  • Palpitations;
  • Dizziness;
  • Excessive tiredness;
  • Feeling of heaviness in the neck and chest;
  • Shortness of breathe;
  • Excessive sweating;
  • Chest pain;
  • Fainting.

In children and babies, the main symptoms can include excessive sweating, lack of appetite, pallor and an accelerated pulse.

If symptoms of supraventricular tachycardia last longer than a few minutes, the arrhythmia can cause cardiac arrest, which can be life-threatening. Therefore, if you experience some of the symptoms of supraventricular tachycardia, it is recommended that you seek medical attention immediately.

main types

Supraventricular tachycardia can be classified into some types according to causes and symptoms, the main ones being:

1. Atrioventricular reentry tachycardia

Atrioventricular reentry tachycardia is the most common type of supraventricular tachycardia, where the heart uses an extra pathway to transmit electrical signals, causing the heart to beat before its proper time.

People with this type of alteration have very fast heartbeats, with more than 100 beats per minute, and they have very short onset and duration. This type of tachycardia is very common at all ages, but it happens more often in young women.

2. Atrial tachycardia

In atrial tachycardia, the electrical signal that controls the heartbeat happens in a different location in the heart and repeats itself very quickly, accelerating the heartbeat, which is equal to or greater than 100 beats per minute, leading to symptoms such as palpitations, fainting, dizziness , chest pain or cardiac arrest.

This type of tachycardia can appear in children with congenital heart disease or who have undergone heart surgery. However, the main causes of this type of supraventricular tachycardia include anxiety, stress, high blood pressure, occurrence of previous heart attacks or excessive consumption of alcohol, cocaine and other stimulants.

3. Junctional atrioventricular tachycardia

Junctional atrioventricular tachycardia is characterized by an increase in electrical signals within the bundle of His, a set of fibers located within the heart, generating a tachycardia, with 120 to 200 heartbeats per hour, and can lead to symptoms such as palpitation, lack of air, pallor and fainting.

This type of tachycardia is more common in young people and is usually hereditary, but it can also be caused by excessive use of drugs or alcohol, anxiety, in addition to appearing after heart surgery.

Causes of supraventricular tachycardia

The main causes of supraventricular tachycardia are:

  • Previous cardiovascular disease such as heart attack, atherosclerosis, or stroke;
  • Wolff-Parkinson-White Syndrome;
  • Chronic lung disease;
  • Excessive alcohol consumption;
  • Use of stimulant drugs such as cocaine and methamphetamines;
  • Excessive coffee consumption;
  • Smoke;
  • Thyroid Diseases;
  • Pregnancy.

Furthermore, the use of some medications to treat asthma, flu and allergies may also be related to the onset of supraventricular tachycardia.

How to confirm the diagnosis

The diagnosis of supraventricular tachycardia must be made by the cardiologist, through the physical evaluation and the symptoms presented by the person, in addition to taking into account the person’s health history and that of the family.

In addition, the doctor may order some more specific tests to diagnose the types of tachycardia, such as electrocardiogram, 24-hour Holter monitoring, echocardiogram, and exercise stress test. In some cases, blood tests to assess kidney and thyroid function may also be indicated. Discover the tests that assess the heart.

How is the treatment done

Treatment for supraventricular tachycardia should only be done under the supervision of a cardiologist and aims to balance the heartbeat and prevent the worsening of symptoms, which may vary according to the type of supraventricular tachycardia the person has. Thus, the main types of treatment are:

1. Vagal maneuver

This type of treatment is indicated only for people with junctional atrioventricular tachycardia, where a massage is done in the initial part of the carotid artery to stimulate the release of substances that reduce the heart rate.

2. Valsalva maneuver

This is a type of maneuver performed by the cardiologist that stimulates the nervous system, favoring a reduction in heart rate. However, this maneuver can only be performed in people who have junctional atrioventricular tachycardia.

3. Cardioversion

Cardioversion is a therapy generally indicated in the initial treatment of supraventricular tachycardias, especially in cases of low blood pressure, with pads or adhesives being placed on the person’s chest and applied “electrical shock” using a defibrillator, a device that emits strong shocks, changing electrical signals and helping to restore normal heart rhythms.

4. Medicines

In some cases of supraventricular tachycardia, the cardiologist may prescribe certain medications to help control the heart rate or restore normal heartbeat, such as ivabradine, verapamil, adenosine, pyridostigmine, or midodrine.

5. Catheter ablation

In catheter ablation, a doctor inserts a catheter into a person’s veins or arteries, which when it touches the heart, blocks abnormal electrical signals and restores normal heartbeats.

This procedure is usually indicated for some cases of tachycardias that do not require medication or for people who do not respond to treatment with medication.

6. Pacemaker

In rarer cases, the cardiologist may recommend the use of a pacemaker, a device that is placed close to the heart, to monitor and control the rhythms of the heartbeat. Understand what the pacemaker is and how it works.

7. Lifestyle changes

In addition to conventional treatments, the cardiologist, along with a multidisciplinary team, can recommend lifestyle changes to improve heart health, including:

  • Eat a balanced diet, regularly consuming high-fiber foods such as whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, maintain a balanced intake of healthy fats such as olive oil and low-fat proteins, and avoid foods high in fat and sugar. Here are some tips for maintaining a balanced diet;
  • have a good nights sleep, sleeping between 7 and 9 hours a night to help decrease the production of stress-related hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline;
  • Practice regular physical activities, such as walking or swimming, under the supervision of a physical education professional, to improve endurance, in addition to stimulating the production of hormones responsible for pleasure and relaxation, such as dopamine, endorphin and serotonin.

In addition, some types of complementary therapies and exercises such as yoga and meditation and relaxation techniques are also recommended to relieve stress, helping to prevent tachycardia.

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