Ventricular Tachycardia (V-tach)


What is Ventricular Tachycardia?

Ventricular tachycardia (V-tach or VT) is an abnormal heart rhythm (arrhythmia) in which the bottom chambers of the heart (the ventricles) are beating very fast, usually greater than 100 beats per minute. Often, patients with ventricular tachycardia will have a heart rate of more than 170 beats per minute. Ventricular tachycardia may be a life threatening arrhythmia if the abnormal heart rhythm is sustained and causes a patient's heart to be unable to circulate blood properly.


What are the symptoms of Ventricular Tachycardia?

Patients with ventricular tachycardia may experience lightheadedness, palpitations, shortness of breath, or chest pain. When the heart rate is extremely high or the ventricular tachycardia persists for more than a few seconds, it can cause loss of consciousness. Once loss of consciousness occurs, ventricular tachycardia can lead to cardiac arrest and death if the rhythm persists.


What are the causes of Ventricular Tachycardia?

The most common cause of ventricular tachycardia is scar tissue that can form in the heart as a result of a heart attack from coronary artery disease (CAD). However, other patients who have heart disease such as problems with their valves, high blood pressure, or congestive heart failure (CHF) can develop ventricular tachycardia. In rare cases, ventricular tachycardia can occur without any clear cause in patients who are otherwise healthy.


What is the treatment for Ventricular Tachycardia?

Medications can be given to prevent ventricular tachycardia or in an attempt to decrease the rate or duration of the tachycardia. An implantable cardiac defibrillator (ICD) can prevent patients from passing away from ventricular tachycardia by monitoring a patient’s heart and delivering a shock to put the heart back in a regular rhythm if an individual develops sustained ventricular tachycardia. In patients with frequent or very symptomatic ventricular tachycardia, an ablation procedure can also be performed to prevent ventricular tachycardia.

Even if it is not possible to prevent the tachycardia with an ablation, the procedure may make it less likely for the tachycardia to cause severe symptoms or death if does occur. The decision of whether an ICD or ablation is the better approach, or possibly even both, is made based on the complete clinical picture and after a full explanation and discussion between the cardiologist and the patient.