What is ventricular tachycardia?
Ventricular tachycardia is a type of arrhythmia or heart rhythm disorder where abnormal electrical signals in the ventricles (lower compartments or chambers of the heart) cause it to beat too fast and out of sync with the contractions of the atria or upper compartments.
Such speeding up and lack of coordination may mean that the heart chambers do not have enough time to fill completely with blood before pumping it out. This means that not enough blood is pumped into the body and, therefore, there is not enough oxygen.
Prognosis of the disease
In severe cases, attacks of ventricular tachycardia may develop into ventricular fibrillation where coordination between the ventricles is lost when they rapidly come into contact. This can lead to cardiac arrest, which can be lethal if not treated immediately.
Symptoms of ventricular tachycardia
The most common symptoms of ventricular tachycardia are:
- Shortness of breath or dyspnea.
- Feeling dizzy.
- Chest pain.
- rapid pulse
- shortness of breath
Medical tests for ventricular tachycardia
The most common examinations and tests to detect ventricular tachycardia are:
- Coronary angiography.
- Chest X-ray.
- Blood tests, to analyze calcium and phosphate levels.
What are the causes of ventricular tachycardia?
Ventricular tachycardia occurs because there is a problem with the electrical signals that control when the ventricles contract to pump blood, which may be due to several reasons:
- Electrolyte imbalance.
- Substance or drug abuse, especially cocaine.
- Some medications.
- Too much caffeine intake.
- Damage to the heart muscle and/or electrical pathways as a result of other heart conditions, such as cardiomyopathy, coronary artery disease, congenital heart disease, or previous heart attacks.
- People with diabetes or hypertension are at increased risk for ventricular tachycardia.
- Patients with a family history of heart disease are also more likely to have such an attack.
- People who are heavy drinkers and smokers are also more at risk.
Can it be prevented?
You can reduce your risk of ventricular tachycardia by controlling some secondary risk factors by maintaining some healthy lifestyle habits:
- Exercise regularly.
- Avoid tobacco, drugs and excessive consumption of alcoholic beverages.
- Eating a healthy diet, with a reduction in the consumption of red meat and fats, increasing the intake of fruits and vegetables.
Treatments for ventricular tachycardia
Usually if the patient has had ventricular tachycardia for some time, or if it has worsened, an emergency treatment called electrical cardioversion will be used. It works in a similar way to defibrillation: it uses a programmed electrical shock to restore the heart rhythm back to normal.
If the patient suffers cardiac arrest during tachycardia, a defibrillator will be used before the tachycardia can be treated.
When the heart rate is under control, the specialist may recommend some medications, such as calcium channel blockers, antiarrhythmics (to maintain normal rhythm) or beta-blockers. In any case, this should always be indicated by the physician and should not be self-medicated.
Future episodes can be prevented with the following treatments:
- Catheter ablation. This involves passing a very thin tube through a blood vessel and into the heart, where an electrode will use heat, cold or radiofrequency to remove defective tissues or electrical pathways.
- Implantable converter defibrillator. This is a small device that is implanted in the heart. This device detects when the heart rhythm becomes abnormal and produces a small shock to normalize it.
- Cardiac surgery, which is performed in exceptional cases where other options are not possible or have not worked previously.
Which specialist treats it?
The specialist who treats ventricular tachycardias is the cardiologist. He or she will decide which tests and treatments are necessary and most appropriate in each case.