Supraventricular tachycardia: Causes, Risk Factors, Symptoms, Treatment

Supraventricular tachycardia

Supraventricular tachycardia (SVT) is a common heart rhythm disorder that affects millions of people worldwide. It is characterized by an abnormally fast heart rate originating from the upper chambers of the heart, known as the atria. 

Symptoms of Supraventricular Tachycardia

If you are getting any of the symptoms of Supraventricular tachycardia (SVT), consult with a Cardiologist.


Several factors can contribute to its occurrence:

  • Abnormal Electrical Pathways: SVT often results from an abnormal electrical pathway in the heart, causing rapid firing of electrical signals that override the heart's natural pacemaker.

  • Atrioventricular Nodal Re-entry: This occurs when there's a loop of electrical activity within the atrioventricular (AV) node, leading to rapid heart rates.

  • Atrial Fibrillation or Flutter: Conditions like atrial fibrillation or flutter involve chaotic electrical signals originating from the atria, leading to rapid and irregular heartbeats.

  • Accessory Pathways: Certain individuals are born with extra electrical pathways between the atria and ventricles, known as accessory pathways. When these pathways conduct electrical signals rapidly, SVT can occur.

  • Heart Disease: Structural abnormalities or damage to the heart, such as from coronary artery disease, heart valve disorders, or cardiomyopathy, can create conditions conducive to SVT.

  • Stimulants: Substances like caffeine, nicotine, and certain medications or illicit drugs can trigger SVT episodes by affecting the heart's electrical system.

  • Hormonal Changes: Hormonal fluctuations, such as those occurring during pregnancy, thyroid disorders, or menopause, can predispose individuals to SVT.

  • Stress and Anxiety: Emotional stress or anxiety can stimulate the release of hormones like adrenaline, which can influence heart rate and trigger SVT episodes.

  • Age and Genetics: SVT can have a genetic component, and it may also occur more frequently in certain age groups, though it can affect individuals of any age.

  • Other Medical Conditions: Conditions such as Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome, which involves an abnormal extra electrical pathway in the heart, can predispose individuals to SVT.

  • Electrolyte Imbalances: Abnormal levels of electrolytes like potassium, sodium, or magnesium in the blood can disrupt the heart's electrical activity and trigger SVT.

Risk Factors

here are some common risk factors associated with supraventricular tachycardia (SVT) presented as bullet points:

  • Structural Heart Conditions:

    • Congenital heart defects
    • Cardiomyopathy
    • Heart valve abnormalities
  • Age:

    • SVT can occur at any age but is more common in older adults
  • Gender:

    • Women are more likely to experience SVT than men
  • Stimulants:

    • Excessive caffeine intake
    • Nicotine
    • Certain drugs like cocaine or amphetamines
  • Alcohol:

    • Excessive alcohol consumption can trigger SVT episodes in some individuals
  • Stress and Anxiety:

    • Emotional stress
    • Anxiety disorders
  • Thyroid Disorders:

    • Hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid)
  • Electrolyte Imbalance:

    • Low potassium levels (hypokalemia)
    • Low magnesium levels (hypomagnesemia)
  • Medications:

    • Some medications can increase the risk, especially those that affect the electrical activity of the heart
  • Pregnancy:

    • SVT episodes may occur or worsen during pregnancy due to hormonal changes and increased blood volume
  • Obesity:

    • Obesity can put strain on the heart and increase the risk of SVT
  • Family History:

    • Having a family history of SVT or other cardiac arrhythmias may predispose individuals to developing SVT themselves


Symptoms can vary from person to person, but common signs of SVT may include:

  • Rapid heartbeat: The heart rate can exceed 100 beats per minute (bpm) and may go up to 250 bpm or even higher during an SVT episode.

  • Palpitations: Feeling like your heart is racing, fluttering, or pounding in your chest.

  • Shortness of breath: Difficulty breathing, especially during physical exertion or during an SVT episode.

  • Chest pain or discomfort: Some people may experience chest pain or discomfort during an SVT episode.

  • Dizziness or lightheadedness: Feeling faint, dizzy, or lightheaded can occur as a result of the rapid heart rate.

  • Fatigue: Feeling unusually tired or fatigued, particularly if SVT episodes are frequent or prolonged.

  • Anxiety: SVT episodes can trigger feelings of anxiety or panic, especially if the symptoms are severe or unexpected.

  • Fainting (syncope): In some cases, SVT can cause fainting or near-fainting episodes due to reduced blood flow to the brain.

Need an Appointment?


Diagnosing supraventricular tachycardia (SVT) typically involves a combination of medical history, physical examination, and diagnostic tests. Here's an outline of the process:

  • Medical History: Your healthcare provider will ask you questions about your symptoms, medical history, and any factors that may trigger or worsen your symptoms. This includes asking about your family history of heart conditions and any medications you are taking.

  • Physical Examination: Your doctor will perform a physical exam, including checking your pulse rate and rhythm, listening to your heart sounds, and assessing any other signs or symptoms.

  • Electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG): This is the primary test used to diagnose SVT. An ECG records the electrical activity of your heart and can identify abnormalities such as rapid heart rate and irregular heart rhythms. If you're experiencing symptoms of SVT during the test, it can help confirm the diagnosis.

  • Holter Monitor or Event Monitor: If your symptoms are intermittent or occur infrequently, your doctor may recommend wearing a Holter monitor or event monitor to record your heart's electrical activity over an extended period. This can help capture episodes of SVT that may not be detected during a standard ECG.

  • Electrophysiology Study (EPS): In some cases, if the diagnosis is uncertain or if other treatments are not effective, your doctor may recommend an electrophysiology study. During this procedure, thin, flexible wires (electrodes) are passed through blood vessels and into the heart to map its electrical signals and identify the specific location of the abnormal rhythm.

  • Blood Tests: Blood tests may be ordered to check for electrolyte imbalances, thyroid function, and other conditions that could contribute to or trigger SVT.


There are several treatment options for SVT, depending on the severity of symptoms and the underlying cause. Here are some common treatments:

Vagal maneuvers: These are simple techniques that stimulate the vagus nerve, which can help slow down the heart rate. Techniques include bearing down as if having a bowel movement, coughing forcefully, or immersing the face in ice-cold water.

Valsalva maneuver: This involves forcefully exhaling against a closed airway, such as by closing the mouth and pinching the nose while attempting to exhale. This can also stimulate the vagus nerve and help restore normal heart rhythm.

Carotid sinus massage: Gentle massage of the carotid sinus, located in the neck, can stimulate the vagus nerve and slow the heart rate. This should only be performed by trained medical personnel due to the risk of causing a stroke.

Beta-blockers: Drugs like metoprolol or atenolol are often prescribed to reduce the heart rate and prevent SVT episodes.

Electrical cardioversion: In cases where other treatments are ineffective or if the SVT is causing severe symptoms, electrical cardioversion may be necessary. This involves delivering a controlled electric shock to the heart to restore normal rhythm.

Radiofrequency catheter ablation: This is a minimally invasive procedure where a catheter is inserted into the heart to deliver radiofrequency energy to the abnormal heart tissue responsible for the SVT. This destroys the abnormal tissue and prevents further episodes of SVT.

Preventive Measures

While some cases of SVT are unpredictable and may occur without any known cause, there are several preventive measures that can help manage and reduce the risk of SVT episodes:

  • Avoid Triggers: Identify and avoid factors that can trigger SVT episodes. Common triggers include stress, caffeine, alcohol, tobacco, certain medications, and recreational drugs. By minimizing exposure to these triggers, you can reduce the likelihood of SVT episodes.

  • Healthy Lifestyle Choices: Adopting a healthy lifestyle can help manage SVT. This includes maintaining a balanced diet, engaging in regular exercise, getting an adequate amount of sleep each night, and managing stress through techniques such as meditation or yoga.

  • Limit Caffeine and Alcohol: Both caffeine and alcohol can stimulate the heart and potentially trigger SVT episodes. Limiting or avoiding these substances can help reduce the frequency and severity of episodes.

  • Stay Hydrated: Dehydration can exacerbate SVT episodes. It's important to stay adequately hydrated by drinking plenty of water throughout the day, especially during hot weather or periods of increased physical activity.

  • Manage Stress: Stress can be a significant trigger for SVT episodes. Practice stress-reduction techniques such as deep breathing exercises, mindfulness meditation, or progressive muscle relaxation to help keep stress levels in check.

  • Avoid Overexertion: Intense physical activity or overexertion can sometimes trigger SVT episodes, particularly in individuals who are susceptible. While regular exercise is important for overall health, it's essential to listen to your body and avoid pushing yourself too hard.

  • Quit Smoking: If you smoke, quitting can significantly reduce your risk of SVT episodes. Smoking can have detrimental effects on cardiovascular health and may exacerbate existing heart conditions.

  • Monitor Symptoms: Keep track of your symptoms and any potential triggers in a journal or diary. This can help you and your healthcare provider identify patterns and develop strategies for managing and preventing SVT episodes.

  • Regular Follow-Up: Attend regular follow-up appointments with your healthcare provider to monitor your condition and make any necessary adjustments to your treatment plan.

Do's & Don’t's

When it comes to managing supraventricular tachycardia, there are certain do's and don'ts that can help individuals effectively cope with this condition. By following these guidelines, individuals can better manage their symptoms and reduce the frequency and severity of supraventricular tachycardia episodes. 

Do's Don't
eek medical attention promptly if you experience symptoms of SVT, such as a rapid heartbeat, dizziness, or lightheadedness. Avoid caffeine and alcohol, as these substances can worsen SVT symptoms.
Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water. Avoid strenuous activity, as this can trigger SVT episodes.
Manage stress through relaxation techniques such as yoga or meditation. Do not smoke, as smoking can increase the risk of SVT.
Take medications as prescribed by your doctor. Avoid over-the-counter medications without consulting your doctor, as some may interact with SVT medications.

If you are getting any of the symptoms of Supraventricular tachycardia (SVT), consult with a Cardiologist.

Frequently Asked Questions
Supraventricular tachycardia (SVT) is a common heart rhythm disorder that affects millions of people worldwide. It is characterized by an abnormally fast heart rate originating from the upper chambers of the heart, known as the atria.
The causes of supraventricular tachycardia can vary from person to person. One common cause is abnormal electrical pathways in the heart that disrupt the normal rhythm. This can lead to rapid and irregular contractions.
Several risk factors have been identified that may increase the likelihood of developing supraventricular tachycardia. One significant risk factor is age, as supraventricular tachycardia tends to be more common in individuals over 60 years old. Additionally, certain underlying medical conditions such as hypertension, coronary artery disease, and thyroid disorders can contribute to the development of supraventricular tachycardia.
One of the most common symptoms of supraventricular tachycardia is a rapid heartbeat, often described as palpitations or a racing sensation in the chest. This can be accompanied by a pounding or fluttering feeling in the chest. Some individuals may also experience shortness of breath, dizziness, lightheadedness, or fainting episodes.
One of the primary methods used for diagnosing supraventricular tachycardia is an electrocardiogram (ECG). This non-invasive test records the electrical activity of the heart and can help detect abnormal heart rhythms associated with supraventricular tachycardia. By analyzing the ECG results, healthcare providers can determine the type of supraventricular tachycardia present and develop an appropriate treatment plan.
When it comes to the treatment of supraventricular tachycardia, there are several options available that can effectively manage and control this condition. One common approach is vagal maneuvers, which are simple techniques that stimulate the vagus nerve and help restore normal heart rhythm. These maneuvers include techniques like bearing down as if having a bowel movement, coughing forcefully, or immersing your face in ice-cold water. Vagal maneuvers can be attempted at home or under medical supervision.
One of the key preventive measures is maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Regular exercise, a balanced diet, and adequate sleep can contribute to overall cardiovascular health and help reduce the risk of supraventricular tachycardia. Additionally, avoiding triggers such as excessive caffeine or alcohol intake, smoking, and stress can play a significant role in preventing supraventricular tachycardia episodes.
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