Paroxysmal supraventricular tachycardia (PSVT) is a type of arrhythmia, or abnormal heartbeat. It happens when your heart beats too fast but with a regular rhythm. A PSVT episode can come on suddenly and end abruptly. Lifestyle changes and treatments can help reduce symptoms of this type of fast heart rate.
Paroxysmal supraventricular tachycardia (PSVT) is a general term used to describe a type of arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat). Tachycardias are faster-than-normal heartbeats. If you have this condition, your heart may suddenly beat more quickly. Just as suddenly, your heart may slow down and beat at a normal rate. These episodes (also called paroxysms) are triggered by rapid heartbeats originating from the top chambers of your heart called the atria. The two bottom chambers are the ventricles. These four chambers work together to pump blood through your heart and to the rest of your body.
PSVT results from abnormal electrical activity that begins in the atria. This abnormal activity causes the atria to contract (pump) very quickly over and over again. Treatment for PSVT isn’t always required, and the condition isn’t usually life threatening. If necessary, providers can treat this condition with medications, cardiac procedures and rarely a pacemaker implant. See your provider for an evaluation if you notice any irregularities in your heartbeat.
In a heart that works normally, the heartbeat begins in the sinoatrial node (SA node). The SA node is a small mass of tissue in the atria. It serves as the heart’s pacemaker.
The SA node sends electrical signals that cause the atria to contract (pump). The signals travel to the ventricles through the atrioventricular node (AV node), which is a little clump of cells in the middle of the heart. The AV node carries the electrical impulses that tell the ventricles to contract.
A variety of conditions are considered PSVT. These can be caused by multiple connections from the top to the bottom chambers of your heart either directly or through the AV node, resulting in tachycardia. In other circumstances, an irritable focus in the top chambers of your heart could also trigger tachycardia.
Common names of these tachycardias include:
Heart arrhythmias are very common. Millions of people in the United States live with some type of arrhythmia.
Supraventricular tachycardias are the most common type of arrhythmias in children and babies. They’re more common among children who have heart disease.
PSVT (also called re-entry tachycardia) is a type of atrial arrhythmia. It happens when there is abnormal electrical activity in the atria. This is caused by an abnormally irritable area in the atria or by a short circuit in your heart causing electrical signals to travel around and around in a circular pattern. This causes the atria to contract quickly over and over again.
These abnormal electrical signals can happen when there is an extra pathway between the atria and the ventricles either directly or within the AV node. People with a condition called Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome have this extra pathway in their heart. If electrical signals travel more quickly through the extra (accessory) pathway than they do through the AV node, your heart beats faster than it should.
Like other types of arrhythmias, PSVT can be inherited (passed down through families). It can also develop as a result of:
Symptoms of PSVT usually start and stop abruptly. They range from mild to severe. You may feel your heart beating quickly after exercise, when you haven’t gotten enough sleep or if you’re under a lot of stress. Symptoms include:
When you have a PSVT episode, you may also experience:
After asking about your symptoms and listening to your heart, your provider will recommend a blood test. This test looks for problems with your thyroid and other problems in your blood.
Your provider will do a test called an electrocardiogram (EKG or ECG). You get this test in your provider’s office and it takes about 15 minutes. An EKG monitors your heart rate using sensors that attach to your skin. Your provider may also recommend an exercise stress test if strenuous activity triggers an episode of PSVT.
If the EKG doesn’t detect an irregular heartbeat, your provider may recommend an ambulatory monitor such as a Holter monitor or a patch monitor for a more extended duration. You wear this portable device for at least two days but up to a month. It records your heart rate and any irregular heartbeats.
Depending on your overall health and symptoms, you may not need treatment. If you have an arrhythmia, you’ll see a special type of heart doctor called a cardiologist. They may recommend you:
You can also ask your provider about ways to temporarily slow down your heart rate if you’re having an episode. These include:
You may not be able to avoid PSVT. But you can lower your risk by making smart lifestyle choices and staying healthy. To lower your risk, you should:
The outlook for people with PSVT depends on several factors, including your age and your overall health. You may be able to relieve symptoms with lifestyle and dietary changes.
Over time, PSVT can weaken your heart muscle. In severe cases, PSVT can lead to loss of consciousness, and it can even cause sudden cardiac arrest. If you have PSVT, see your provider regularly so they can monitor your heart health. In almost all circumstances, PSVT can be cured with catheter ablation.
If you have any concerns about your heartbeat or you have symptoms of arrhythmia, talk to your provider. If you have PSVT, it’s very important to see your cardiologist regularly.
Seek medical help right away if you:
A note from Cleveland Clinic
A paroxysmal supraventricular tachycardia episode can be scary. But this condition isn’t usually dangerous or life-threatening. You should see your provider for an evaluation if you have any concerns about your heartbeat. It’s always a good idea to get a full evaluation so your provider can rule out a serious health problem. Although you may not need treatments for PSVT, they’re available if you do. By staying active, avoiding caffeine and alcohol, making healthy choices and seeing your cardiologist regularly, you can reduce your risk of complications from PSVT.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 12/22/2021.
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