Ventricular tachycardia consultation at Mayo Clinic
A thorough physical exam, medical history and testing are required to diagnose ventricular tachycardia.
To diagnose ventricular tachycardia, the health care provider will usually do a physical exam and ask questions about your symptoms, habits and medical history. Sometimes, ventricular tachycardia is a medical emergency that requires urgent diagnosis and treatment.
If you have signs or symptoms of tachycardia, tests can be done to evaluate the heart and help confirm the diagnosis. Tests can also help determine if another health problem is contributing to ventricular tachycardia.
Electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG)
An electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG) records the electrical signal from the heart to check for different heart conditions. Electrodes are placed on the chest to record the heart's electrical signals, which cause the heart to beat. The signals are shown as waves on an attached computer monitor or printer.
A Holter monitor is a small, wearable device that continuously records the heart's rhythm for a day or more. A health care provider can review the data captured on the recording device to determine if a heart rhythm problem (arrhythmia) is present.
Cardiac event monitor
A wearable cardiac event monitor may be used to diagnose tachycardia. This type of portable ECG device records heart activity only during episodes of irregular heart rhythms (arrythmias).
An electrocardiogram is the most common tool used to diagnose tachycardia. This painless test detects and records the heart's electrical activity using small sensors (electrodes) attached to the chest and arms.
An ECG records the timing and strength of electrical signals as they travel through the heart. A health care provider can look for patterns among the signals to determine the type of tachycardia and how problems in the heart may be causing a fast heart rate.
Your health care provider may also ask you to use a portable ECG device at home to obtain more information about your heart rate. These devices include:
- Holter monitor. This portable ECG device can be worn for a day or more to record the heart's activity during daily activities. It may be recommended if a traditional ECG doesn't give your care provider enough information about your heart's condition. Some personal devices, such as smartwatches, offer portable ECG monitoring. Ask your health care provider if this is an option for you.
- Event monitor. This portable ECG device is intended to be worn for up to 30 days or until you have an irregular heart rhythm (arrhythmia) or symptoms. You typically press a button when symptoms occur. However, some monitors automatically sense arrhythmias and then start recording.
- Implantable loop recorder. This implantable device has no wires and can sit underneath the skin for up to three years to continuously monitor the heart rhythm.
Heart (cardiac) imaging
If you have an irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia), your health care provider may recommend cardiac imaging tests to evaluate the structure of your heart. Cardiac imaging tests used to diagnose ventricular tachycardia include:
- Chest X-ray. A chest X-ray can show the condition of the heart and lungs. A chest X-ray can help diagnose an enlarged heart.
- Echocardiogram. An echocardiogram uses sounds waves to create a picture of the heart in motion. It can identify areas of poor blood flow and heart valve problems.
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). A cardiac MRI provides still or moving pictures of how blood flows through the heart.
- Computerized tomography (CT). A heart (cardiac) CT scan combines several X-ray images to provide a more detailed cross-sectional view of the heart.
- Coronary angiogram. A coronary angiogram is done to check for blockages in the heart's arteries. It uses a contrast dye and special X-rays to show the inside of the coronary arteries.
Cardiac MRI animation
Watch how a heart (cardiac) MRI is used to view the heart.
Exercise stress test
In an exercise stress test, sensors (electrodes) taped to the chest record the heart's rhythm. A health care provider monitors the heartbeat while the person walks on a treadmill or pedals a stationary bike.
Some types of tachycardia are triggered or worsened by exercise. During a stress test, the heart's activity is typically monitored while you're riding on a stationary bicycle or walking on a treadmill. Other heart tests may be done with a stress test. If you have difficulty exercising, a drug may be given to stimulate the heart in a way that's similar to exercise.
Electrophysiological (EP) test and cardiac mapping
This test, also called an EP study, may be done to confirm a diagnosis of ventricular tachycardia and to determine the precise location of the irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia).
During an EP study, a health care provider inserts thin, flexible tubes (catheters) tipped with sensors (electrodes) into a blood vessel, usually in the groin, and guides them to various areas in the heart. Once in place, the electrodes can precisely map the spread of electrical signals during each heartbeat.
Tilt table test
A tilt table test may be done to better understand how tachycardia contributes to fainting. Heart rate and blood pressure are monitored while lying flat on a table. Then, under careful supervision, the table is tilted to a position that mimics standing. The health care provider watches how the heart and the nervous system that controls it respond to the changes in position.
Ventricular tachycardia treatment at Mayo Clinic
A Mayo Clinic health care provider delivers specialized care for ventricular tachycardia.
Ventricular fibrillation that lasts longer than 30 seconds (sustained VT) often requires urgent medical treatment, as this condition may sometimes lead to sudden cardiac death.
The goals of ventricular tachycardia treatment are to slow a rapid heartbeat when it occurs and to prevent future episodes of a fast heart rate. Treatment may include medications or procedures to control or reset the heart rhythm.
If another medical condition is causing tachycardia, treating the underlying problem may reduce or prevent episodes of a fast heartbeat.
If you have ventricular tachycardia, you may be given medications called anti-arrhythmics by mouth or IV to slow the fast heart rate. Other heart medications, such as calcium channel blockers and beta blockers, may be prescribed with anti-arrhythmic drugs.
This medical procedure is generally used when emergency care is needed for a rapid heart rate, such as that seen with sustained ventricular tachycardia. Cardioversion sends electric shocks to the heart through sensors (electrodes) placed on the chest. The shock affects the heart's electrical signals and restores a regular heartbeat. It's also possible to do cardioversion with medications.
A shock can also be delivered to the heart using an automated external defibrillator (AED).
Surgery or other procedures
Implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD)
An ICD works to control the heartbeat by delivering shocks to the heart when the device detects an irregular heartbeat.
Subcutaneous implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (S-ICD)
A subcutaneous implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (S-ICD) is a less invasive alternative to a traditional ICD. The S-ICD device is implanted under the skin at the side of the chest below the armpit. It connects it to a sensor that runs along the breastbone.
A catheter procedure or heart surgery may be needed to help prevent or manage episodes of ventricular tachycardia.
- Catheter ablation. In this procedure, a health care provider threads one or more thin, flexible tubes (catheters) through an artery, usually in the groin, and guides them to the heart. Sensors (electrodes) on the tip of the catheter use heat or cold energy to create tiny scars in the heart to block irregular electrical signals and restore the heart rhythm. Catheter ablation is often done when an extra signaling pathway is responsible for the fast heart rate.
- Implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD). Your health care provider may recommend this device if you're at high risk of developing ventricular tachycardia or ventricular fibrillation. An ICD is a pager-sized device implanted under the skin near the collarbone. It continuously monitors the heartbeat and delivers precisely calibrated electrical shocks when an irregular rhythm (arrhythmia) is detected. The shocks help restore a regular heart rhythm.
- Pacemaker. This small device is surgically implanted under the skin in the chest area. When the pacemaker detects an irregular heartbeat, it sends an electrical pulse that helps correct the heart's rhythm.
- Maze procedure. In this procedure, a surgeon makes tiny incisions in the upper half of the heart (atria) to create a pattern (or maze) of scar tissue. The heart's signals can't pass through scar tissue. So the maze can block stray electrical heart signals that cause some types of tachycardia.
- Open-heart surgery. Sometimes open-heart surgery may be needed to destroy an extra electrical pathway causing tachycardia. Surgery is usually done only when other treatment options don't work or when surgery is needed to treat another heart disorder.
Get the latest heart transplant-related health
information from Mayo Clinic.
Sign up for free, and receive heart transplant and heart
failure content, plus expertise on heart health.
ErrorEmail field is required
ErrorInclude a valid email address
To provide you with the most relevant and helpful information, and understand which
information is beneficial, we may combine your email and website usage information with
other information we have about you. If you are a Mayo Clinic patient, this could
include protected health information. If we combine this information with your protected
health information, we will treat all of that information as protected health
information and will only use or disclose that information as set forth in our notice of
privacy practices. You may opt-out of email communications at any time by clicking on
the unsubscribe link in the e-mail.
Thank you for subscribing
You will receive the first heart failure and transplantation email in your inbox shortly. When seeking answers, people often look to experts for clear and accurate information. By subscribing to heart failure content from Mayo Clinic, you have taken an important first step in gaining knowledge and using it for your overall health and well-being.
If you don't receive our email within 5 minutes, check your SPAM folder, then contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sorry something went wrong with your subscription
Please, try again in a couple of minutes
Explore Mayo Clinic studies testing new treatments, interventions and tests as a means to prevent, detect, treat or manage this condition.
Coping and support
If you have a plan in place to manage an episode of a fast heartbeat, you may feel calmer and more in control when one occurs. Talk to your care provider about:
- How to take your pulse and what pulse rate is best for you
- When to call your doctor
- When to seek emergency care
Preparing for your appointment
Whether you first see your family health care provider or get emergency care, you'll likely be referred to a doctor trained in heart conditions (cardiologist) for a complete evaluation.
If possible, bring along a family member or friend who can provide support and help you remember any new information. Because there may be a lot to discuss, it may be helpful to prepare a list of questions ahead of time.
Your list should include:
- Symptoms that you've had, including any that may seem unrelated to your heart
- Key personal information, including any major stresses or recent life changes
- Medications that you take, including vitamins or supplements
- Questions to ask your health care provider
List your questions from most important to least important in case time runs out. Basic questions include:
- What is likely causing my fast heart rate?
- What kinds of tests do I need?
- What's the most appropriate treatment?
- What risks does my heart condition create?
- How will we monitor my heart?
- How often will I need follow-up appointments?
- How will other conditions I have or medications I take affect my heart condition?
- Do I need to restrict my activities?
- Are there any brochures or other printed material that I can take home with me? What websites do you recommend visiting?
Don't hesitate to ask additional questions that you may have.
What to expect from your doctor
Your health care provider is likely to ask you several questions. Being ready to answer them may save time to go over any information you want to spend more time on. Your health care provider may ask:
- When did you first begin having symptoms?
- How often do you have episodes of a fast heartbeat?
- How long do the episodes of a fast heartbeat last?
- Does anything, such as exercise, stress or caffeine, seem to trigger or worsen episodes?
- Does anyone in your family have heart disease or a history of irregular heartbeats (arrhythmias)?
- Has anyone in your family had sudden cardiac death or died suddenly?
- Do you smoke?
- How much alcohol or caffeine do you use?
- Do you use illegal drugs?
- Do you have high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or other heart or blood vessel conditions?
- What medications do you take for these conditions, and do you take them as prescribed?
Feb. 02, 2022