Infographic: Ventricular Tachycardia

A Heart Out of Rhythm

What happens when ventricular tachycardia throws off the steady, coordinated rhythm of your heartbeat?

When the heart works correctly, the chambers of the heart play along in perfect harmony.

  • For each heartbeat, electrical impulses trigger the chambers of the heart to contract in time with each other.
  • First the upper chambers (atria) contract to fill the lower chambers with blood; the lower chambers (ventricles) then pump blood out to the body.
  • The timing allows each chamber to completely fill with blood before contracting.

In ventricular tachycardia, a misfire of your heart's electrical system throws the rhythm off.

  • The ventricles beat too fast, out of sync with the atria, which are beating more slowly.
  • As a result, the ventricles don't have enough time to fill, meaning your body may not get enough blood.
  • In serious cases, this can lead to sudden cardiac arrest and death.

When your rhythm is off tempo.

A brief incident may pass in a few seconds and result in no symptoms or ill effects in patients with otherwise normal hearts.

However, in certain patients, symptoms can include:

  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Arrhythmias including palpitations or a feeling of the heart beating irregularly or rapidly
  • Passing out
  • Chest pain

In certain settings, ventricular tachycardia may be associated with sudden death: most often in abnormal hearts — such as those with a prior heart attack — but rarely can occur in normal hearts.

There are a number of options to get your heart back in harmony.

Medication: Many people respond well to drugs that regulate rhythm and prevent further episodes.

Cardiac ablation: In this procedure, heart tissue that may be causing the incorrect electrical impulses is destroyed.

Implants: For patients who are at risk for certain forms of ventricular tachycardia, an implantable cardioverter defibrillator can quickly restore normal rhythm and prevent death if the dangerous rhythm occurs.