Tachycardia is a very fast heart rate – over 100 beats per minute. It is normal for the heart to beat quickly during exercise or emotional stress. However, if tachycardia occurs at rest, it may be a symptom of a serious health disorder. Tachycardia may affect the upper or lower heart chambers, called the atria and ventricles. Atrial tachycardia (atrial flutter or fibrillation) is not life threatening but may have serious consequences for your health, such as a high risk of stroke. Ventricular tachycardia (ventricular flutter) can be life-threatening. Ventricular tachyarrhythmia (ventricular fibrillation) is the most dangerous type of tachycardia. The heart muscle cells contract chaotically, which can result in death within a matter of minutes. This is one of the most common causes of sudden cardiac death.
To achieve long-term therapy success, the tachycardia’s cause needs to be identified, and treated by:
- Antiarrhythmic drugs and/ or beta blocker medication may slow the heartbeat and normalize its rhythm. Sometimes, medication alone cannot treat tachycardia. Medication often has side effects and can even cause heart rhythm disorders.
- A type of defibrillation called cardioversion, which uses an electric shock to stop the tachyarrhythmia and return heart activity to a normal rhythm. Cardioversion is performed with an external defibrillator (using paddles to shock a patient’s chest), or by an implanted cardioverter-defibrillator called an ICD. It saves lives, particularly those of patients in ventricular fibrillation. ICDs are recommended for patients at high risk of ventricular fibrillation.
- Catheter ablation in which a physician uses energy to destroy the heart cells causing the tachyarrhythmia.
In ventricular tachycardia, the heart beats rhythmically and very quickly. It is life-threatening when the heart beats too fast for the ventricles to fill with blood, meaning that the heart cannot pump enough blood through the body. Ventricular tachycardia can lead to ventricular fibrillation, which can lead to death within a matter of minutes. Both ventricular tachycardia and fibrillation can be treated by:
- Medication can control the heart’s activity in patients who are still conscious and have a pulse.
- Defibrillation. Patients who have lost consciousness and do not have a pulse need to be defibrillated immediately. If an external defibrillator is not available, call an ambulance and apply CPR until it arrives.
- An ICD, which detects any heart rhythm irregularity and stops them immediately with relatively weak electrical shocks. An ICD is the best method to protect patients from ventricular tachycardia and fibrillation.
In atrial tachycardia and atrial flutter, the upper heart chambers beat rhythmically and very quickly. Generally atrial flutter is not life-threatening, but it increases the risk of atrial fibrillation and stroke. It is treated by:
- Medication to control the heart’s activity drugs and prevent blood clotting, decreasing the risk of stroke.
- Atrial flutter can be treated by ablation, which stops the flutter and returns the heart to a normal rhythm.
Atrial fibrillation can cause dizziness and anxiety, although it does not always cause symptoms. Both symptomatic and asymptomatic atrial fibrillation can be treated by medication or electric therapy. Asymptomatic atrial fibrillation can be treated by cardiac monitors like BioMonitor2.
Many older patients suffer from chronic atrial fibrillation, which cannot be converted be fixed. If the heart cannot return to a healthy rhythm, blood thinning medication can prevent stroke.