What treatments are available?
Treatment for ventricular tachycardia involves managing any disease that causes the condition. These treatments may improve or prevent the abnormal heart rhythm from returning. In emergency situations, CPR, electrical defibrillation and IV medications may be needed to slow the heart rate. Nonemergency treatment usually includes radiofrequency catheter ablation (RCA) or an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD).
Radiofrequency Catheter Ablation
Radiofrequency catheter ablation is a procedure performed by a cardiac electrophysiologist, which is a cardiologist who specializes in treating patients with heart rhythm disorders. In the first part of the procedure, the doctor uses electrophysiology techniques to pinpoint the location in the heart where the abnormal rhythm begins. In the second step, the doctor uses a catheter with a special tip that emits a high-frequency form of electrical current. The current is used to destroy a tiny amount of tissue in the area of the ventricle where the abnormal rhythm begins. This is called an ablation procedure.
Ablation of ventricular tachycardia has a long history of safety and success. For some patients, ablation completely cures the abnormal rhythm, and no other treatment is needed. Ablation can also improve treatment with an implantable cardioverter defibrillator.
Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator
An ICD is a device that is implanted under the skin. It monitors and controls the heart’s rhythm. If it detects an episode of ventricular tachycardia, it acts quickly to get your heart back to a normal rhythm. An ICD consists of a pulse generator, which is about the size of a pager, and one or more lead wires that connect the pulse generator to the heart. The leads are inserted through the veins and positioned in the heart. The leads send information about the heart’s electrical activity to a computer microchip in the pulse generator. If the computer detects an abnormal heartbeat, the pulse generator sends an electrical signal across the lead(s) to the heart to restore a normal heart rhythm. Clinical studies show that ICDs can stop life-threatening ventricular tachycardias in nearly all patients.
Medications to slow the heart rate is another treatment option for patients with ventricular tachycardia. These drugs can be effective but are associated with some serious, potentially fatal side effects, and they are not used as much as they were in the past.
It is important to keep your appointments for regular follow-up visits. Your doctor will want to see how you’re doing, make sure your treatment is working and talk about any symptoms or changes you’ve had. You should also follow a heart-healthy diet and exercise plan that your healthcare team recommends for you.