Ventricular tachycardia is the term for a fast heart rate that begins in the ventricles, the lower section of the heart. It leads to a fast yet regular heart rhythm. However, it can lead to ventricular fibrillation, which is a fast yet irregular heart beat. With this, the heart may beat so quickly and irregularly that it actually stops pumping blood. This can lead to sudden cardiac arrest and death. However, with treatment ventricular tachycardia can be handled and won’t develop into ventricular fibrillation.
At times, especially when it develops in children and teens, it can be difficult if not impossible to identify the cause of ventricular tachycardia. However, in most cases, some sort of heart disease is the base cause. This may include a congenital heart defect, a previous heart attack, myocarditis, or dilated or hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. At times, ventricular tachycardia develops after a person has heart surgery. Some medications can also cause ventricular tachycardia. These include medications like antiarrhythmic medications that are used to treat other issues related to heart rhythms. Low potassium levels, electrolyte imbalances, and other mineral or vitamin deficiencies can also contribute to the development of ventricular tachycardia.
If you use herbal remedies that include ma huang or ephedra, especially if you take massive amounts of them, take a lot of diet pills, use a lot of caffeine pills, or take many nonprescription decongestants, you may also develop ventricular tachycardia. Illegal drugs, especially drugs like cocaine that act as stimulants, can also cause ventricular tachycardia.
There are a number of different signs and symptoms of ventricular tachycardia. Some of them are symptoms of a number of different problems, which may make it difficult to immediately diagnose ventricular tachycardia. However, one of the immediate clues is a fast or an irregular heart beat. These palpitations may occur frequently. You may also feel lightheaded, dizzy, have shortness of breath, experience chest pain, faint, or have a very weak pulse. If your heart palpitations last from more than a few seconds, the ventricular tachycardia is very serious and may quickly turn into ventricular fibrillation.
Ventricular tachycardia can be diagnosed by doing an electrocardiogram (an EKG). This traces the heart’s electrical activity and shows its rhythm. Some lab tests, a physical exam, and an x-ray may also be necessary. One of the difficulties of diagnosing ventricular tachycardia is that it may not occur while you are at the doctor’s office. Because of this, the doctor may give you a portable EKG machine that you can use to monitor your heart rhythm while at home. Later, your doctor may want to perform a few other tests like an electrophysiology study.
When it comes to treatment, those in sustained tachycardia need medication attention immediately before it turns into ventricular tachycardia. They may need CPR or a shock from an automatic defibrillator. An electrical cardioversion or several intravenous medications can also be used to try to get your heart back to a normal rhythm.
Once your heart is stabilized, you may need to take a number of different antiarrhythmic medications to keep the rhythm normal. Sometimes, these medications have horrible side effects, though. Because of this, some people may do better with an implantable cardioverter defibrillator, a type of pacemaker. It is implanted in the skin and can apply an electrical shock if ventricular tachycardia occurs. Once the device detects a normal heartbeat again, it goes back to monitoring mode. For severe cases, both mediations and this implant may be needed.
Another procedure is called catheter ablation. In this treatment, small, flexible wires are actually used to destroy the small sections of heart tissue that are causing the irregular rhythm.
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