Paroxysmal supraventricular tachycardia -- try saying that fast three times! Actually, I’m not certain I can say this tongue twister more than once without my tongue tripping over the syllables.
Of course, what I really want to know is whether or not paroxysmal supraventricular tachycardia, or PSVT, is a serious condition and what I can expect if I’ve been newly diagnosed.
PSVT might be easier to understand if we break it down into its individual parts:
• P, or Paroxysmal. Paroxysmal means that something occurs suddenly or from time to time. In other words, PVST is not symptomatic all the time.
• S, or Supra. Supra is an adjective which means above or over. In this case, supra means over or above the ventricles.
• V, or Ventricular. The heart is divided into two areas: the atria or upper heart chambers, and the ventricles or lower heart chambers. Ventricular in this case means the ventricles or the lower heart chambers.
• T or Tachycardia. Tachycardia is a condition where the heart beats more rapidly than normal. For most adults, a normal resting heartbeat is 60-100 beats per minute. A heart in tachycardia may beat as high as 150 to 250 beats per minute. Children’s hearts in PSVT may beat even higher.
Combine all together and PSVT simply means that from time to time you have a heartbeat that is more rapid than normal, and this heart malfunction if you will, begins in the above the ventricles in the upper chamber of the heart. When you put it this way, it sounds fairly simple doesn’t it?
Imagine for a moment that your heart is a traffic light. As long as all the controlling electrical signals are properly sent and received, the traffic light functions properly and all is well. However, we all know the chaos that ensures when the signals are not sent or interpreted in the right manner.
Your heart functions in much the same way. As long as the upper and lower
chambers of the heart work together in harmony, all is well. In the case of PSVT, the sinoatrial node, or SA node, tells the atria or upper heart chambers to contract. Unfortunately, the ventricles or lower heart chambers either don’t get or understand the message and PSVT results.
When the heart is in PSVT, you may experience a number of symptoms including conditions such as rapid pulse, shortness of breath, dizziness, fainting, anxiety, heart palpitations, or chest tightness. The time length that symptoms occur varies from minutes to hours and frequently may start or stop without warning. Sometimes symptoms may last much longer, like for more than 12 hours. When this occurs, it’s referred to as incessant PSVT.
Although it can occur at any age, PSVT is more common in infants or younger adults. Certain conditions may increase your risk of developing PSVT. Heart patients taking digitalis or digitoxin may develop digitalis toxicity which increases the risk of PSVT.
Other heart conditions such as Wolff-Parkinson-White Syndrome are also known to cause PSVT. Certain lifestyle choices such as alcohol consumption, too much caffeine, recreational drug use, and smoking contribute to PSVT.
If symptoms occur, it’s often possible to interrupt the rapid heartbeat and return it to normal rhythm by the use of a Valsalva maneuver. These include techniques such as coughing or holding your breath, straining, or splashing cold water on your face or applying ice packs to your face.
In more severe cases, medications such as beta blockers, propafenone, procainamide, adenosine, flecinide, moricizine, or verapamil may be prescribed. Preventive medications may also be prescribed to prevent PSVT from occurring.
In addition to medications, procedures may sometimes be used to help the heartbeat return to normal, including:
• Cardioversion – an electrical shock is administered to shock the heart back to a normal rhythm
• Pacemaker – may be inserted in order to keep the heart beating at normal levels
• Radio frequency catheter ablation – a catheter is inserted which delivers low-frequency radio waves to the control the heartbeat impulses
Unlike other forms of tachycardia, PSVT is usually not life-threatening. However, PSVT may increase your risk of heart failure. You should seek medical attention immediately if you have new symptoms or heart palpitations and symptoms that don’t end in a few minutes.
If your PSVT symptoms return on a frequent basis or if you have symptoms other than PSVT you should seek medical assistance.
Christian Nordqvist. What is Tachycardia? What Causes Tachycardia? Medical News Today. 06 Jan 2010. http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/175241.php
What Is an Arrhythmia? National Heart Lung and Blood Institute. 01 Jul 2011. http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/arr
Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome. MedLine Plus, US National Library of Medicine. 08 Aug 2011.
Digitalis Toxicity. MedLine Plus, US National Library of Medicine. 13 Feb 2011. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000165.htm
Issam Mikati, MD. Paroxysmal supraventricular tachycardia (PSVT). 04 May 2010. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000183.htm
Reviewed September 19, 2011
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Malu Banuelos