Supraventricular Tachycardia (SVT) Overview

Supraventricular Tachycardia (SVT) is a fast, regular heart rhythm that comes from an area in the upper chambers of the heart. It can cause the heart to beat too fast and out of rhythm. People may feel like their heart is beating too hard or going too fast. Generally, it causes the heart to beat much faster than normal but the heart still pumps blood effectively.

SVT starts suddenly and usually ends just as suddenly. It can last from a few seconds to a few weeks. It can occur in healthy people, or people with other heart conditions. It does not usually cause lasting damage to the heart.

What Causes SVT?

Any number of things can cause SVT. It is usually triggered by some form of stress, physical activity, caffeine or nicotine use. It may also be caused by certain medications, alcohol or other drugs. It can also be caused by certain heart conditions, such as electrical heart defects or heart disease.

Symptoms of SVT

The most common symptom of SVT is an increased, irregular heart rate. People may feel faint, dizzy or weak. Other symptoms include shortness of breath, palpitations or chest pain.

Diagnosis of SVT

SVT is usually diagnosed by a physician based on symptoms and a physical examination. An electrocardiogram (ECG) is usually recommended to confirm the diagnosis. An ECG records the electrical activity of the heart. Additional tests may be performed if the ECG is inconclusive or other heart conditions are suspected.

Treatment of SVT

There are several options available for treating SVT. Depending on the cause and severity of the condition, one or more of the following may be used:

  • Lifestyle changes – such as avoiding caffeine, nicotine, or alcohol.
  • Medications – such as beta-blockers, calcium channel blockers, or antiarrhythmic drugs.
  • Cardiac ablation – a procedure that destroys the heart tissue responsible for the abnormal rhythm.
  • Implantable cardioverter-defibrillator – a device that monitors heart rhythm and can provide appropriate therapy.

Risk Factors for SVT

Certain factors can increase the risk of developing SVT. These include:

  • Increasing age
  • Family history of SVT
  • History of stress or physical activity
  • History of smoking, drinking, or drug use
  • Certain medications or excessive levels of caffeine
  • Underlying heart conditions, such as electrical defects or coronary artery disease