Supraventricular Tachycardia: the Treatments

Supraventricular tachycardia, or SVT, is a type of rapid heartbeat that begins in the upper chambers of the heart. Most cases don't need to be treated. They go away on their own.

But if an episode doesn't end within a few minutes, you may need to take action. You might do this on your own or with the help of a doctor.

The exact treatment will depend on how long your heart has been racing, how severe the symptoms are, and how often this happens.

Your goal is to slow down the heart's pace and make sure nothing more serious happens. Some possible treatments include:

Vagal Maneuvers

This technique is the first step to try on your own to see whether you can get your heart to go back into its normal rhythm.

This method uses easy exercises to spark the vagus nerve, which helps set the beating of your heart.

Begin by bearing down as if you were sitting on a toilet. Close your mouth, clamp your nose shut, and exhale. If you're in a doctor's office or hospital, you might get the same effect by blowing into a tube. This is also called a “Valsalva maneuver.”

Other Quick Remedies

If the vagal maneuvers don’t work, consider:

  • Blowing into a closed fist
  • Coughing
  • Holding your breath for a few seconds
  • Putting cold water on your face

You may find some of these exercises familiar if you’ve used them to stop the hiccups.

If you do have SVT, learning these tricks can help you if your heart goes into the rhythm when you are alone.

Finally, a nurse or doctor may be able to help with what’s called a carotid sinus massage. He puts gentle pressure on the part of the neck where the carotid artery divides into two branches. To prevent serious side effects, let only a trained person do this for you.

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Medications

You might need to go to your doctor’s office or the ER for medicine.

You might get a shot of a fast-acting medicine to block the electrical impulses that are causing your heart to race. Examples include adenosine (Adenocard or Adenoscan) and verapamil (Calan, Verelan).

Adenosine has milder side effects, such as dizziness or feeling like you need to throw up. They usually don't last long. Verapamil may cause low blood pressure.

Some medications, when taken regularly, can help ease these events or stop them from happening.

Your doctor might prescribe drugs called “calcium-channel blockers” or “beta blockers” as well as anti-arrhythmic medications, which treat abnormal heart rhythms. You would need to take these regularly, usually daily.

Catheter Ablation

In this procedure, your doctor destroys the tissue in your heart that is causing it to beat so fast. It doesn’t harm other parts of your heart when this is done.

Usually, you can have this done without a hospital stay. You will be awake during this procedure.

Your doctor inserts a catheter, or narrow plastic tube, into an artery or vein in your leg or groin, after numbing the area.

The doctor then guides the catheter up to your heart. It records the electrical impulses, trying to find where the problem is coming from. Once she’s zeroed in on the location, she’ll use an electrode to zap the area, either with heat or cold.

This procedure is usually successful and has few side effects. In very rare cases, it can cause a stroke or heart attack or you end up needing a pacemaker.

Cardioversion

A small electrical current is applied to your heart to reset its beat in this procedure. You are lightly sedated, so you don’t feel any discomfort.

The doctor can deliver it through hand-held paddles, called a defibrillator, or patches put directly on your chest. The procedure is a simple one, and bad complications are rare. Your chest may feel sore and your skin irritated where the current entered your body.

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Pacemaker

In rare cases, a surgeon may need to put a pacemaker into your heart. The small device keeps your heart beating evenly.

Lifestyle Changes

Usually, doctors don’t know why you have SVT and what causes it. But sometimes, things you drink such as coffee and alcohol can trigger it.

You may be able to prevent your heart from racing by reducing or cutting out caffeine, alcohol, tobacco, and diet pills. Also make sure you get plenty of rest.

Treating Underlying Conditions

Sometimes, another health condition causes supraventricular tachycardia. You may have already been diagnosed with one of the following:

If one of these is the case, you may need to have the underlying condition treated first before you can start to get your SVT under control.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Suzanne R. Steinbaum, MD on August 15, 2016

Sources

SOURCES:

American College of Cardiology: "2015 Guideline for the Management of Supraventricular Tachycardia," "Supraventricular Tachycardia Topic Overview."

National Health Service UK: "Treating supraventricular tachycardia."

American Heart Association: "Tachycardia | Fast Heart Rate."

Kaiser Permanente: "Supraventricular Tachycardia Treatments."

Uptodate.com: "Supraventricular tachycardia (SVT) (The Basics)."

Stanford Health Care: "Supraventricular Tachycardia-Vagal Maneuver."

University of Michigan Frankel Cardiovascular Center: "Supraventricular Tachycardia (SVT)."

Petroianu, G. Journal of the History of the Neurosciences, published online July 23, 2014.

Payne, B. Journal of Neurosurgery, May 2005.

Mount Sinai Hospital: "Paroxysmal Supraventricular Tachycardia."

University of North Carolina Electrophysiology Services: "Treatment of supraventricular tachycardia (SVT)."

Page, Richard L. Journal of the American College of Cardiology, April 2016.

UCLA Cardiac Arrhythmia Center: "FAQ Supraventricular Tachycardia (SVT)."

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