What is Ventricular Tachycardia?

Ventricular tachycardia is an abnormally fast heartbeat. Like other types of arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat), this disorder is caused by a problem with the heart’s electrical system, which stimulates the heart to squeeze and relax. The source of this type of arrhythmia is in the heart’s ventricles (lower chambers). Experts usually define ventricular tachycardia as three or more heartbeats in a row, at a rate of more than 120 beats per minute. If tachycardia lasts for more than a few seconds at a time, it can become life-threatening.

The Cardiac Arrhythmia Service at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) Heart & Vascular Center is devoted solely to the care of patients with irregular heart rhythms, heart palpitations and rapid heartbeat conditions. Treatment is provided by some of the world's most experienced physicians in cardiac electrophysiology (the study of heart’s electrical system). Together, they perform more than 3,000 procedures annually, utilizing the latest medications, devices, and innovative care approaches. We offer patients personalized care and expertise that includes ongoing communication and education throughout treatment, outpatient care and follow-up.

Watch this video of catheter ablation for supraventricular tachycardia.

What are the risk factors for ventricular tachycardia?

Ventricular tachycardia is typically associated with other heart conditions, although they sometimes can occur in otherwise normal hearts. These include:

What are the symptoms of ventricular tachycardia?

A patient with ventricular tachycardia may experience one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Palpitations
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Unconsciousness
  • Cardiac arrest

How is ventricular tachycardia diagnosed?

Our ventricular tachycardia specialists provide expert evaluation and diagnosis with the aid of the latest advanced imaging technologies. Along with a careful physical examination, your cardiologist may order one or more of the following tests or procedures:

What are the treatment options for ventricular tachycardia?

Specialists from the Cardiac Arrhythmia Service develop individualized treatment plans for patients based on:

  • Age
  • Overall health
  • Medical history
  • Severity and form of the disease
  • Tolerance for specific medications or procedures
  • Expectations for course of the disease
  • Presence of other conditions

It is important to treat an arrhythmia, because the condition can worsen over time as the heart muscles become overworked and weak, making it even more difficult for the heart to function properly. Treatment may involve a number of options, including:

  • Medication Patients with less severe tachycardias and no underlying conditions may be treated primarily with medication, such as beta blockers, to slow down the heartbeat.
  • Cardiac ablation
  • Cardiac resynchronization
  • Implantable cardioverter defibrillator
  • Transvenous lead extraction
  • Cardioversion - During brief sedation administered by an anesthesiologist, this procedure delivers an electrical current through the chest wall to the heart through special electrodes or paddles that are applied to the skin of the chest and back. The purpose of the cardioversion is to interrupt the abnormal electrical circuit(s) in the heart and to restore a normal heartbeat. The delivered shock causes all the heart cells to contract simultaneously, thereby interrupting and terminating the abnormal electrical rhythm without damaging the heart. The heart’s electrical system then restores a normal heartbeat.

What can I expect?

The Heart & Vascular Center is located in the Shapiro Cardiovascular Center, across the street from BWH’s main 75 Francis Street entrance. The Heart & Vascular Center brings together the full range of services in one location, fostering seamless and coordinated care for all cardiovascular patients.

If you are having surgery or a procedure, you will likely be scheduled for a visit to the Watkins Clinic for pre-operative information and tests.

The day of surgery, you care will be provided by surgeons, anesthesiologists and nurses who specialize in surgery for patients with ventricular tachycardia. After surgery, you will go to the post-surgical care unit where you will receive comprehensive care by an experienced surgical and nursing staff.

During your surgery, family and friends can wait in the Shapiro Family Center. Staff members will provide surgery updates and caregivers who leave the hospital will be contacted by cell phone.

Download Cardiac Surgery: A Guide for Patients

Team-based care

Patients benefit from the teamwork of cardiac surgeons, medical cardiologists, interventional cardiologists, cardiovascular imaging experts and radiologists, and anesthesiologists, all experts in ventricular tachycardia. They work alongside nurses, physician assistants, physical therapists, dietitians and social workers to achieve outstanding outcomes for our patients. Learn more about Our Heart & Vascular Team.

How do I request an appointment?

What resources do you offer?

Learn more about ventricular tachycardia.

Visit the Kessler Health Education Library in the Bretholtz Center where patients and families can access computers and knowledgeable staff.

Access a complete directory of patient and family services.

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