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Supraventricular Tachycardia


What is supraventricular tachycardia?

Supraventricular tachycardia (SVT) is a condition that causes your heart to beat much faster than it should. SVT is a type of abnormal heart rhythm, called an arrhythmia, that starts in the upper part of your heart. It may last from a few seconds or hours to several days. In most cases SVT is not life-threatening, but it should be treated or prevented.

What increases your risk for SVT?

  • Health conditions such as anemia, a thyroid disorder, or heart problems
  • Caffeine, herbs, or dietary supplements
  • Dehydration
  • Pregnancy
  • Exercise, fever, or stress
  • Smoking, drinking alcohol, or using illegal drugs

What are the signs and symptoms of SVT?

You may have no symptoms during an SVT episode. If you do have symptoms, they may include any of the following:

  • A pounding, racing, or fluttering heartbeat
  • Fatigue, weakness, or shortness of breath
  • Feel lightheaded, dizzy, or faint.
  • Pain, pressure, or tightness in your chest, neck, jaw, arms, or upper back
  • Nausea
  • Feel anxious, scared, or worried that something bad may happen

How is SVT diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask about other health conditions and what symptoms you have. He will also listen to your heart and lungs. You may need any of the following tests:

  • Blood or urine tests are done to check for causes of SVT.
  • An EKG is a test to record your heart rhythm and how fast your heart beats. It is used to check for problems with your heart. Your healthcare provider may do an EKG when you are resting, then again after you exercise. You may also need to wear a portable heart monitor at home for a short time.
  • A chest x-ray shows a picture of your heart and lungs.
  • An echocardiogram is a type of ultrasound. Sound waves are used to show the structure and function of your heart.
  • A tilt table test checks your heart and blood pressure when your body changes positions.
  • An electrophysiology study is a procedure to map the electrical pathways in your heart that control your heartbeat. Readings are taken through a catheter inserted into a blood vessel in your groin or neck that goes up to your heart.

How is SVT treated?

Treatment will depend on what is causing your SVT and your symptoms. You may not need treatment. You may need one or more of the following:

  • Medicines can help control your heart rate and rhythm.
  • Vagal maneuvers are ways to use your own body to slow down your heart rate. Your healthcare provider may have you cough, bear down like you are having a bowel movement, or put your face in cold water. You healthcare provider may teach you how to do vagal maneuvers so you can do them at home.
  • Carotid sinus massage is a type of massage to help slow your heart rate. Your healthcare provider will massage an area on your neck. Do not do a carotid sinus massage on yourself or anyone else.
  • Cardioversion is a procedure to return your heart rate and rhythm to normal. It can be done with medicine or an electric shock.
  • Ablation is a procedure that uses a catheter to damage the small area of your heart that is causing abnormal electrical signals.

How can I manage or prevent SVT?

  • Keep a diary of your symptoms. Write down what you ate or what you were doing before an episode of SVT. Also write down anything you did to make the SVT stop. Bring your diary to follow up visits with your healthcare provider.
  • Manage other health conditions such as diabetes, thyroid problems, or high blood pressure. Follow up with healthcare providers as directed.
  • Eat heart-healthy foods. These include fruits, vegetables, whole-grain breads, low-fat dairy products, beans, lean meats, and fish. Replace butter and margarine with heart-healthy oils such as olive oil and canola oil.
  • Exercise and maintain a healthy weight. Ask your healthcare provider how much you should weigh. Ask him to help you create a weight loss plan if you are overweight. Also, ask about the best exercise plan for you.
  • Limit caffeine and alcohol. These can increase your risk for SVT. Ask your healthcare provider how much alcohol is safe for you.
  • Do not smoke. If you smoke, it is never too late to quit. Ask for information if you need help quitting.

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

  • Your symptoms get worse, or you have new symptoms.
  • You have swelling in your ankles or feet.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

When should I seek immediate care or call 911?

  • Chest pain, tightness, or pressure that lasts more than 1 to 2 minutes. The discomfort may spread to your shoulders, arms, jaw, neck, or back. The discomfort may be a burning that feels like heartburn.
  • You have sudden shortness of breath
  • You have dizziness, lightheadedness, or faint.
  • You have sudden numbness or weakness in your arms or legs.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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