The ventricles are the two lower chambers of the heart, which fill with blood from the two top chambers or the atria. They then pump the blood to the lungs and to the body. Ventricular tachycardia is faster than a normal heart rate (greater than 100 beats per minute) that begins in these lower chambers of the heart.
Ventricular tachycardia occurs when something goes wrong with the electrical signals that control heart rate. This abnormal electrical activity in the heart muscle can be caused by other heart problems including coronary artery disease, high blood pressure, and heart valve disease. It can develop after a heart attack or heart surgery, or can occasionally even occur in people who have no heart disease at all.
The most common symptoms of ventricular tachycardia are:
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain
And if the heart rate is elevated too long, more serious symptoms can occur such as fainting and cardiac arrest.
In addition to the presence of symptoms, ventricular tachycardia is diagnosed non-invasively using a device called an electrocardiogram or ECG/EKG for short. Another diagnostic tool is an invasive electrophysiology test to precisely evaluate the electrical activity in different regions of the heart.
Treatment of ventricular tachycardia may include medications, a radiofrequency catheter ablation and/or an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD). In a radiofrequency catheter ablation procedure, the physician identifies the origin of the abnormal electrical activity and then uses a device called an ablation catheter to deliver radiofrequency energy to that area. The result is usually the destruction of the tissue responsible for the abnormal heart rate.
An ICD is a device that is implanted under the patient’s skin, which monitors the heart’s rate/rhythm. If the ICD detects an abnormal heartbeat, it sends an electrical signal to the heart to restore normal rate/rhythm.