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Tachycardia (Fast Heart Rate)

Tachycardia is a type of arrhythmia that causes a fast heart rate. At the Washington University and Barnes-Jewish Heart & Vascular Center, our electrophysiologists see a high number of patients with the condition every year. That volume gives us a depth of expertise in providing an accurate diagnosis and successful treatment.

We work with you to find a solution that returns you to your daily activities without pain or other symptoms. We always consider your overall medical history and personal preferences when creating an individualized treatment plan.

Learn more about what distinguishes our care for arrhythmia and heart rhythm disorders.

What is Tachycardia?

Tachycardia is a fast heart rate, characterized by more than 100 beats per minute. It originates in either the upper or lower chambers of the heart. An abnormality in the heart’s electrical system causes the heart rate to increase. Tachycardia raises your risk of having a stroke and may cause sudden cardiac arrest.

Ventricular tachycardia (VT) starts in the bottom chambers of the heart, known as the ventricles. We often detect VT in patients whose hearts have developed scar tissue, such as after a heart attack.

VT can lead to ventricular fibrillation, which can cause sudden death. In ventricular fibrillation, the lower chambers of the heart quiver. The heart cannot pump blood, leading to cardiac arrest. Our experts work quickly to get you the treatment you need.

Symptoms of Tachycardia

You may not experience any symptoms with tachycardia. Sometimes, we diagnose the problem during an exam for a different condition. If you do experience symptoms, they may resemble those of other heart conditions. It is important to see a doctor for an expert diagnosis so we can begin treatment.

Symptoms of tachycardia can include:

  • Palpitations
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Dizziness
  • Lightheadedness
  • Fainting
  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath

Diagnosing Tachycardia

We begin diagnosing the condition by asking you about your symptoms and medical history. We also perform a thorough physical examination. We may then order one or more diagnostic tests:

  • Portable monitor: A Holter monitor or event recorder allows us to collect data about your heart rhythms for a 24-hour period or longer. We place electrodes on your chest, attached to a small, portable device. You wear the monitor around your neck or place it in your pocket.
  • Insertable cardiac monitor: We insert a monitoring device below the skin in your chest. It provides continuous monitoring of your heart’s electrical activity.
  • Electrophysiology study: We insert catheters (long, thin tubes) through your blood vessels to your heart. We are able to map the precise location of the heart rhythm abnormalities.

Tachycardia Treatments

The goal of tachycardia treatment is to control your fast heartbeat and to manage underlying heart conditions that may be causing the problem.

Treatments include:

  • Cardioversion: We can often stop ventricular tachycardia with a short electrical shock to the heart. The controlled shock restores normal rhythm.
  • Medication: Certain medications can prevent ventricular tachycardia.
  • Implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD): An ICD can provide additional rhythm correction within seconds of an abnormal electrical signal occurring in the heart. We are an expert center for ICD implantation. Learn more about our pacemakers and ICD implants.
  • Catheter ablation: We use catheters to deliver energy to the heart, creating safe and effective scars that block the abnormal rhythms. Find out more about our catheter ablation.
  • Cox-Maze procedure: This surgical procedure applies ablations to the heart, permanently stopping the abnormal rhythms. Learn more about Cox-Maze for atrial fibrillation, developed and refined at Barnes-Jewish Hospital.
  • Stroke-reducing procedures and medications: Part of your treatment may include procedures or medication to reduce your risk of stroke. Read more about stroke-reducing procedures.

Contact Us

To make an appointment with a Washington University arrhythmia specialist at Barnes-Jewish Hospital, call 855.925.0631.