The first time I felt my irregular heartbeat was when I was a child. I was in middle school, on spring break with one of my best friends and her family, in Honolulu, Hawaii. It was the first time I had ever body surfed, and suddenly, I was on top of a big wave, and I felt a weird sensation with my heart, it felt like it skipped a beat. As years passed, I would get a heart flutter once in a while, but nothing that overly concerned me. Fast forward many years, after getting pregnant with my fourth child, I developed high blood pressure and I started to get more and more rapid heartbeats that eventually led to Supraventricular tachycardia (SVT). SVT is a rapid heart rate above 100 beats per minute that is caused by electrical impulses that start at the hearts ventricles. At first, I feel a couple skipped beats, then it feels like your heart is racing so fast and your body goes into this washing machine sensation. Sometimes, it would stop on its own and last an hour or two. A couple of times I have had to go to the E.R. because the rapid heartbeats would not stop. One time, the doctors had to perform an electric shock to my heart called electrical cardioversion. It is the worst and scariest experience that I have ever had.
What triggers SVT?
SVT can affect all ages. When you have SVT, the electrical system in your heart isn’t working right. There are some known triggers for SVT, such as alcohol, cigarettes, illicit drugs, caffeine, stress, and exercise, but most episodes have no clear triggers.
How can SVT be diagnosed?
Diagnosing SVT can be tricky because the irregular heartbeats happen randomly. It is hard to catch the recording and then get the information to your doctor. I have had a symptom picking up my daughter from school and then another one at an open house at school!! I had two different doctors diagnose me differently, and two different surgeons perform the ablations differently. When you initially see a doctor for these symptoms, they will do an electrocardiogram (ECG). An ECG is one of the simplest and fastest tests used to evaluate the heart. The doctors will usually send you home with a Holter monitor that you connect to your chest and hang around your neck. Each time you have a symptom, you press a button and the monitor reads it and keeps track. You usually have to wear them for a month. It is a pain in the butt. In my most recent experience, I was told about a device that is easy to use to record heart rates. It is called Kardia, by Alivecor. You can attach it to the back of your phone, and then download the app. Recording begins with finger placement of right and left hands on the two electrodes at the back of the iPhone case. Once the app sees that you have connected your fingers, it will start to record your heart rate. If there are any abnormalities, it will tell you. You then can send the recordings directly to your doctor. It is a brilliant device. I was able to use it at the open house and send it directly to my doctor. You can purchase the Kardia online at Amazon.
How can SVT be treated?
There are ways SVT can be treated. There are medications to help with the symptoms, but with any medication, there are side effects. I never wanted to go on any medication, I felt too young. My doctor suggested Radiofrequency Ablation. It is safe and cost-effective for patients who don’t want to take meds. In some cases, like mine, a one time only ablation is not effective. A second and sometimes third ablation is necessary.
Can SVT cause death?
In most cases, it is not dangerous. Research has been shown that over time; it can weaken the muscle in the heart. It is however very uncomfortable and scary.
I had my most recent ablation a couple of months ago. The doctor went through a catheter through my groin. They ablated the areas that they were concerned about. The surgery was very easy with little to no discomfort. I still get a heart flutter sometimes, but nothing like before. I do notice that if I eat a lot of sugar or drink red wine, it does seem to trigger it. I do not drink red wine at all anymore. I also, do not have high blood pressure anymore. As I have gone through this experience, it is amazing to me how many friends and acquaintances have SVT, AFIB, or heart flutters. Nothing with your body should scare you, you should always see a doctor if there is a concern.