Atrial tachycardia is a type of arrhythmia that originates in the upper chambers of the heart and causes the heart to beat abnormally fast—more than 100 beats per minute. Patients with atrial tachycardia may feel a pounding in their chest, dizziness, shortness of breath, chest pain and fatigue.
Like most arrhythmias, atrial tachycardia is not life threatening, but it may be the sign of a more serious heart condition.
How is it diagnosed?
Patients may not know that they have an arrhythmia until their doctor performs a complete physical. If you experience any of the above symptoms, talk to your doctor about making an appointment with an electrophysiologist, who can determine your exact type of arrhythmia:
- Electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG) – is a test that records the electrical activity of the heart, shows abnormal rhythms and detects heart muscle damage.
- Echocardiogram – creates a two-dimensional picture of the cardiovascular system and can also produce an accurate assessment of the velocity of blood and cardiac tissue at any point using pulsed or continuous wave Doppler ultrasound.
- Angiography – is a form of imaging that allows your doctor to view blood flow through your arteries as it happens. By injecting a contrast material (dye) into your blood vessels, your doctor is able to trace the flow of the contrast material using imaging machines. Angiography can be done using X-ray imaging or procedures called magnetic resonance angiography (MRA) or computed tomography angiography (CTA).
- Holter monitoring – records a continuous reading of your heart rate and rhythm over a 24-hour period (or more). You wear a recording device (the Holter monitor), which is connected to small metal disks on your chest. Doctors can then look at a printout of the recording to find out what causes your irregular heartbeat.
- Transtelephonic monitoring – documents problems that may not be detected within a 24-hour period. The devices used for this type of test are smaller than a Holter monitor. One of the devices is about the size of a beeper, while the other device is worn like a wristwatch.
- Electrophysiology (EPS) studies – are usually performed in a cardiac catheterization laboratory. In this procedure, a long, thin tube (called a catheter) is inserted through an artery in your leg and guided to your heart. A map of electrical impulses from your heart is sent through the wire to find out what kind of arrhythmia you have and where it starts. During the study, doctors can give you controlled electrical impulses to show how your heart reacts. Medicines may also be tested at this time to see which ones will stop the arrhythmia.
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How is it treated?
Treatments for atrial tachycardia depend upon the severity of your condition, your age and physical condition. For some patients, stress-reducing techniques and lifestyle changes are appropriate. Your doctor may also opt for medical treatments, such as:
- Cardioversion - takes place under anesthesia. Paddles are placed on the chest and deliver an electrical shock that restores the normal heart rate and rhythm.
- Catheter ablation – is a non-surgical treatment that involves the insertion of a tube or catheter from an artery in the leg to the heart. Doctors then send an energy source, such as radiofrequency waves (radiofrequency ablation) or extreme cold (cryoablation), through the catheter to destroy the tissue causing the fast heartbeat.
- Stereotaxis – allows doctors to perform catheter ablations using magnetic navigation, resulting in safer procedures and fewer complications.
- 3D intracardiac ultrasound – provides real-time, three-dimensional images of the left atrium, pulmonary veins and esophagus during ablative procedures, which increases safety and results in a more effective treatment.
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How does Advocate Christ Medical Center make a difference?
Advocate Christ Medical Center is a proven leader in the diagnosis and treatment of atrial tachycardia and other arrhythmias. We are one of the Midwest’s busiest centers when it comes to performing catheter ablations and electrophysiology studies, as well as implanting defibrillator and pacemakers. Patients benefit from state-of-the-art edge minimally invasive technologies, such as Stereotaxis and 3D intracardiac ultrasound, available at only a few Illinois institutions.
Our team is led by some of the most experienced board certified electrophysiologists in the region. Together with cardiologists and cardiovascular surgeons, they meet on a monthly basis to develop individualized treatment plans. Patients are guided through diagnosis, treatment and recovery by our clinical nurse coordinator. Our physicians regularly update referring doctors to ensure continuity of care and ongoing communication.
Whether a patient requires medication, cardioversion or a catheter-based procedure, the doctors at Advocate Christ Medical Center provide compassionate care on the cutting edge.
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Frequently Asked Questions
What causes atrial tachycardia?
Atrial tachycardia can be caused by structural changes in the heart, injury from a heart attack or other heart conditions. It can also be the result of:
- Changes in the heart muscle (cardiomyopathy) [link to Cardiomyopathy Page]
- Enlarged heart
- High blood pressure
- Side effects of medications, including over-the-counter medicine and herbal or "natural" supplements
- Congenital structural abnormalities
- Alcohol and various drugs (especially amphetamines and cocaine)
- Primary electrical rhythm abnormalities in the absence of heart disease
- Thyroid disease, anemia, lung disease and certain other medical conditions
What are the symptoms?
While your doctor may be the first to notice the signs of atrial tachycardia, there are symptoms to be aware of, including:
- Fluttering in your chest
- Racing heartbeat
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath
What are the risk factors?
Risk factors that can increase the likelihood of developing atrial tachycardia include age, genetics, other heart problems, thyroid problems, drugs and supplements, high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, sleep apnea, smoking and alcohol consumption.
If any medical treatments are ordered by my doctor, will my insurance cover them?
Depending on the type of coverage, most commercial insurance carriers will pay the major share of the cost. You should always consult your insurance company to determine proper coverage.
Who provides the medical care?
The team at Advocate Christ Medical Center is staffed by specialized electrophysiologists, nurses, and other specialists who have extensive experiencing treating patients with atrial tachycardia. You will remain under the care of your primary care physician and cardiologist while you are treated by the specialists at Christ Medical Center. To ensure that your physician is kept up-to-date, our team will provide ongoing reports on the progress you have made.
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