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Supraventricular Tachycardia

Supraventricular tachycardia includes a diverse group of abnormal rhythms originating from the atria, the upper chambers of the heart, or the atrioventricular (AV) node, a small mass of tissue located in the wall of the right atrium. The AV node slows the impulse coming from the atria before it passes through to the ventricles. Atrioventricular (AV) nodal reentry tachycardia is one example of supraventricular tachycadia.

A heart that beats too fast or too slow can cause:

  • Lightheadedness or dizziness
  • Palpitations (skipping, fluttering or pounding in the chest)
  • Fatigue
  • Chest pressure or pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fainting spells

Sometimes, there are no symptoms. Left untreated, certain abnormal heart rhythms can cause death. On the other hand, some arrhythmias are common, so-called benign arrhythmias. that have no severe symptoms. One of the goals of evaluation is to sort out the serious from benign forms of heart beat disturbances.

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If your doctor suspects that you may have an arrhythmia, he or she will order one or more of the following diagnostic tests to determine the source of your symptoms.

  • Electrocardiogram — The electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG) records the heart's electrical activity. Small patches called electrodes are placed on your chest, arms and legs, and are connected by wires to the ECG machine. Your heart's electrical impulses are translated into a wavy line, enabling doctors to determine the pattern of electrical current flow in the heart and to diagnose arrhythmias and heart damage.
  • Holter Monitor — A holter monitor is a small, portable machine that you wear for 24 hours. It enables continuous recording of your ECG as you go about your daily activities. You will be asked to keep a diary log of your activities and symptoms. This monitor may detect arrhythmias that might not show up on a resting EKG that only records for a few seconds.
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Several treatment options are available, depending on the type and severity of your arrhythmia, and test results including an electrophysiology study. You and your doctor will decide the one right for you.

Medications

Certain anti-arrhythmic drugs change electrical signals in the heart and help prevent irregular or rapid heart rhythms.

Follow-up Electrophysiology Study

To ensure your medication is working properly after two or more days, your doctor may perform a follow-up electrophysiology study. The goal is to find the drug that works best for you.

Catheter Ablation

A technique pioneered at UCSF, radiofrequency catheter ablation, destroys or disrupts parts of the electrical pathways causing arrhythmias, providing relief for patients who may not respond well to medications or who prefer not to take medications.

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Reviewed by health care specialists at UCSF Medical Center.