What is Ventricular Tachycardia?

Ventricular tachycardia is a rapid rhythm of the heart originating in the ventricles, the lower chambers of the heart. The heart rate during VT is often very rapid, typically occurring at rates 160-250 beats per minute. VT may be non-sustained (last <30 seconds) or sustained (last >30 seconds up to several hours). Compared with supraventricular tachycardia originating in the atria, the upper chambers of the heart, VT may be a potentially deadly rhythm disturbance. In some situations, it may be difficult to distinguish VT from SVT.

VT originates from the ventricles, the lower chambers of the heart. Below is an example of VT.

Example of ventricular tachycardia (VT)

Possible symptoms of VT include:

  • Palpitations (pounding in the chest)
  • Dizziness
  • Lightheadedness
  • Loss of consciousness (passing out)
  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath

In some cases, VT may lead to sudden death when it degenerates to ventricular fibrillation (VF). In fact, sudden death as a result of VT or VF is the most common cause of death in the U.S.

There are many causes of VT. These are generally divided into causes in those with or without other underlying heart disease.

VT may be seen in patients with underlying heart conditions such as:

  • Coronary heart disease
  • Congestive heart failure or cardiomyopathy
  • Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy
  • Right ventricular dysplasia

Dilated cardiomyopathy or hypertrophic cardiomyopathy are two heart conditions that may be associated with VT.

VT may be seen in patients without obvious underlying heart conditions but with a genetic abnormality of the electrical system of the heart. Such conditions include:

  • Long QT syndrome
  • Short QT syndrome
  • Brugada syndrome
  • Catecholaminergic polymorphic VT (CPVT)
VT in a patient with long QT syndrome
VT in a patients with catecholaminergic polymorphic VT (CPVT)

VT may be seen in patients with no heart condition whatsoever. Some causes of such VT include:

  • Outflow tract VT
  • Fascicular VT

Each of these causes of VT is treated very differently.

Learn about treatment for ventricular tachycardia at UNC.

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