Atrial Tachycardia: Overview

What is it?

Atrial tachycardia is a form of SVT or supraventricular tachycardia resulting from a disturbance to the standard rhythm of the heart within the atria itself.

The majority of cases occur in normal, healthy hearts where such an anomaly is completely harmless. However Atrial tachycardia can also be the result of an abnormal heart structure or could be a symptom of recent surgery within the heart itself.

In extreme cases such a disturbance could also be a symptom of congenital heart disease.

The Symptoms

Typically a patient suffering from Atrial tachycardia will experience a heart beat that is regular but at a rate that is higher than average. In standard cases, the heart rate can fluctuate between 100-250 beats per minute but in more serious cases can achieve levels much higher than this.

During such an episode many patients will not experience any symptoms at all and will only feel that their heart racing a little more than usual.

As the attack persists an individual could feel a shortness of breath and may experience some levels of dizziness. Others have reported feeling pain in their chest.

The severity of the symptoms primarily depends on the age of the patient with many younger individuals not even sitting down when an episode occurs. Those of a greater age may feel the need to rest and recuperate.

Such an attack can last for several minutes or hours, but it has been known for an episode to last for many days, weeks or even over the course of several months.

The Cause

Atrial tachycardia can be experienced from birth or can be a result of a weakening of the heart due to surgery or a previous cardiac arrest.

This condition can also be initiated by the consumption of alcohol or drugs or could be the result of defects in the thyroid or adrenal gland.

However in a great many cases the initial trigger is never discovered.

Diagnosis

Usually the diagnosis of Atrial Tachycardia takes the form of an ECG (Electro Cardiogram) or continuous observation using a term heart monitor. This non intrusive investigation should confirm the initial diagnosis and in some cases can also identify the point of origin.

Further tests including a heart scan or blood test can further support the diagnosis and identify the way forward.

Possible Complications

As the beating of the heart is regular in almost all of cases of this condition, the body is well equipped to deal with the defect and most suffers can usually manage their situation by resting until the episode has passed.

However, in some cases the ventricular rhythm can be impacted by the experience causing its own pulse to become irregular which may require further treatment.

Initial Treatment

In the rare cases that treatment is required, the primary focus is to reduce the heart rate itself. This can take the form of blocking agents such as beta-blockers which work directly on the AV nodal or calcium channel blockers.

If such medication is ineffective, Cardioversion may be considered using further medication or an electrical impulse to return the heat to a normal rhythm.

Long Term Resolution

Long term resolution of this disorder is dependent on the source of the arrhythmia as well as the severity of the attacks.

While most sufferers manage their condition through diet, exercise and weight control, antiarrhythmic therapy has been found to be effective in the most extreme cases.

Where the origin of the attacks can be identified a cauterising procedure can cure the AV entirely whilst others require long term drug therapy using a combination of antiarrhythmic medication, beta blockers and calcium channel blockers.

Watch The Atrial Tachycardia Video

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