Supraventricular tachycardia (SVT) is an abnormally fast heart beat that originates from the top chambers of the heart (atria), but unlike atrial fibrillation, the heart rate is often steady and regular. In most cases, episodes of SVT are usually harmless and will often self-terminate without the need for treatment. However, you should seek medical advice if you have prolonged episodes of SVT. The condition is usually harmless but does require careful assessment to determine the optimal management.
The most common symptom of SVT is palpitations, described as a rapid heartbeat. In some patients these may be associated with dizziness, breathlessness or chest tightness and in some cases, this can cause fainting. Even though the heart can beat at very fast rates, SVTs are usually not life-threatening. There are a number of different types of SVT which include having either an extra ‘wire’ in your heart which can ‘short circuit’ to cause symptoms or having an area of the upper chambers that triggers independently to the rest of the heart.
If you have had a previous admission to the hospital with an SVT then your cardiologist will already have the diagnosis and will perform an ECG and Echocardiogram to ensure that your heart is structurally normal. Your cardiologist will then be able to advise you on the best treatment options. If the diagnosis is not clear but SVT is suspected then you will need ambulatory ECG monitoring to try and capture an episode in addition to an ECG and Echocardiogram. Further tests to assess cardiac structure and function or to provoke symptoms may be required.
There are a number of different approaches to the treatment of SVTs which can be tailored to your individual circumstances. SVTs are potentially curable with catheter ablation. In patients with less frequent symptoms medication can be used to control the heart rhythm. This may be in the form of regular, daily medication to prevent episodes or single doses to take during an attack to try and stop it. Your cardiologist will be able to advise you as to best treatment options.