What is ventricular tachycardia and how is it managed?

Ventricular tachycardia is a fast but regular heart rhythm. It is common in people with heart failure.

The heart is a muscle that has four chambers through which blood flows. The two upper chambers are the atria. The two lower chambers are the ventricles.

Under normal circumstances, the walls of the atria contract at the same time, pumping blood into the lower two chambers (the ventricles). Then the walls of the ventricles contract at the same time, pumping blood to the rest of the body.

Typically, each heartbeat starts with an electrical signal. This signal first prompts the atria to beat, pumping blood into the ventricles. Then the signal travels down to the ventricles, and causes them to beat, sending blood throughout the body.

In contrast, in ventricular tachycardia, electrical signals may begin and travel around the ventricles on their own. Because the heart is beating fast, and because the atria are no longer coordinated with the ventricles, the heart does not pump blood effectively and you may faint.

If ventricular tachycardia persists, it can lead to ventricular fibrillation. This is a disorganized heartbeat that can cause a person to die suddenly.

If you experience ventricular tachycardia, your provider may recommend treatment with various medications or an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD). The ICD is placed inside your body. It can recognize an abnormal heart rhythm and use a mild electrical current to restore a normal heart rhythm.