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Ventricular tachycardia
Classification and external resources
ICD-10 I47.2
ICD-9 427.1
DiseasesDB 13819
eMedicine emerg/634 med/2367 ped/2546
MeSH D017180

Ventricular tachycardia (V-tach or VT) is a tachycardia, or fast heart rhythm, that originates in one of the ventricles of the heart. This is a potentially life-threatening arrhythmia because it may lead to ventricular fibrillation and sudden death.



12 lead electrocardiogram showing a run of monomorphic ventricular tachycardia (VT)

Ventricular tachycardia can be classified based on its morphology:

  • Monomorphic ventricular tachycardia means that the appearance of all the beats match each other in each lead of a surface electrocardiogram (ECG).
    • RVOT tachycardia is a type of monomorphic ventricular tachycardia originating in the right ventricular outflow tract. RVOT morphology refers to the characteristic pattern of this type of tachycardia on an ECG.
  • Polymorphic ventricular tachycardia, on the other hand, has beat-to-beat variations in morphology. This most commonly appears as a cyclical progressive change in cardiac axis, previously referred to by its French name torsades de pointes ("twisting of the points"). However, currently the term torsades is reserved for polymorphic VT occurring in the context of a prolonged resting QT interval.

Another way to classify ventricular tachycardias is the duration of the episodes: Three or more beats in a row on an ECG that originate from the ventricle at a rate of more than 100 beats per minute constitute a ventricular tachycardia.

  • If the fast rhythm self-terminates within 30 seconds, it is considered a non-sustained ventricular tachycardia.
  • If the rhythm lasts more than 30 seconds, it is known as a sustained ventricular tachycardia (even if it terminates on its own after 30 seconds).

A third way to classify ventricular tachycardia is on the basis of its symptoms: Pulseless VT is associated with no effective cardiac output, hence, no effective pulse, and is a cause of cardiac arrest. In this circumstance, it is best treated the same way as ventricular fibrillation (VF), and is recognized as one of the shockable rhythms on the cardiac arrest protocol. Some VT is associated with reasonable cardiac output and may even be asymptomatic. The heart usually tolerates this rhythm poorly in the medium to long term, and patients may certainly deteriorate to pulseless VT or to VF.

Less common is ventricular tachycardia which occurs in individuals with structurally normal hearts. This is known as idiopathic ventricular tachycardia and in the Monomorphic form appears with little or no incidence of increased risk of sudden cardiac death. In general, idiopathic ventricular tachycardia occurs in younger individuals diagnosed with VT. While the causes of idiopathic VT are not known, it is generally presumed to be congenital, and can be brought on by any number of diverse factors.


The morphology of the tachycardia depends on its cause.

In monomorphic ventricular tachycardia, all the beats look the same because the impulse is either being generated from increased automaticity of a single point in either the left or right ventricle, or due to a reentry circuit within the ventricle. The most common cause of monomorphic ventricular tachycardia is myocardial scarring from a previous myocardial infarction (heart attack). This scar cannot conduct electrical activity, so there is a potential circuit around the scar that results in the tachycardia. This is similar to the re-entrant circuits that are the cause of atrial flutter and the re-entrant forms of supraventricular tachycardia. Other rarer congenital causes of monomorphic VT include right ventricular dysplasia, and right and left ventricular outflow tract VT.

Polymorphic ventricular tachycardia, on the other hand, is most commonly caused by abnormalities of ventricular muscle repolarisation. The predisposition to this problem usually manifests on the ECG as a prolongation of the QT interval. QT prolongation may be congenital or acquired. Congenital problems include Long QT syndrome and Catecholaminergic polymorphic ventricular tachycardia. Acquired problems are usually related to drug toxicity or electrolyte abnormalities, but can occur as a result of myocardial ischaemia. Class III anti-arrhythmic drugs such as sotalol and amiodarone prolong the QT interval and may in some circumstances be pro-arrhythmic. Other relatively common drugs including some antibiotics and antihistamines may also be a danger, particularly in combination with one another. Problems with blood levels of potassium, magnesium and calcium may also contribute. High dose magnesium is often used as an antidote in cardiac arrest protocols.


The diagnosis of ventricular tachycardia is made based on the rhythm seen on either a 12 lead EKG or a telemetry rhythm strip. It may be very difficult to differentiate between ventricular tachycardia and a wide-complex supraventricular tachycardia in some cases. In particular, supraventricular tachycardias with aberrant conduction from pre-existing bundle branch block are commonly misdiagnosed as ventricular tachycardia. Other rarer phenomena include ashman beats and antedromic atrioventricular re-entry tachcyardias.

Various diagnostic criteria have been developed to determine whether a wide complex tachycardia is ventricular tachycardia or a more benign rhythm.[1][2] In addition to these diagnostic criteria, if the individual has a past history of a myocardial infarction, congestive heart failure, or recent angina, the wide complex tachycardia is much more likely to be ventricular tachycardia.[3]

The proper diagnosis is important, as the misdiagnosis of supraventricular tachycardia when ventricular tachycardia is present is associated with worse prognosis. This is particularly true if calcium channel blockers, such as verapamil are used to attempt to terminate a presumed supraventricular tachycardia.[4] It is therefore wisest to assume that all wide complex tachycardia is VT until proven otherwise.


Therapy may be directed at either terminating an episode of the arrhythmia or for suppressing a future episode from occurring. The treatment for stable VT is tailored to the specific patient, with regard to how well the individual tolerates episodes of ventricular tachycardia, how frequently episodes occur, their comorbidities, and their wishes. Patients suffering from pulseless VT or unstable VT are haemodynamically compromised and require immediate cardioversion


Electrical Cardioversion / Defibrillation

It is usually possible to terminate a VT episode with a direct current shock across the heart. This is ideally synchronised to the patient's heartbeat. As this is quite uncomfortable, shocks should be delivered only to an unconscious or sedated patient. A patient with pulseless VT or a ventricular fibrillation will be unconscious and treated as an emergency on an ACLS protocol, given high energy (360J with a monophasic defibrillator, or 200J with a biphasic defibrillator) unsynchronised cardioversion. Patients with a stable VT are given cardioversion if the tachycardia exceeds 150bpm. Elective cardioversion is usually performed in controlled circumstances with anaesthetic and airway support.

The shock may be delivered to the outside of the chest using an external defibrillator, or internally to the heart by an implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD) if one has previously been inserted.

An ICD may also be set to attempt to overdrive pace the ventricle. Pacing the ventricle at a rate faster than the underlying tachycardia can sometimes be effective in terminating the rhythm. If this fails after a short trial, the ICD will usually stop pacing, charge up and deliver a defibrillation grade shock.

Antiarrhythmic drug therapy

Drugs such as amiodarone or procainamide may be used in addition to defibrillation to terminate VT while the underlying cause of the VT can be determined. As hypomagnesia is a common cause of VT, stat dose magnesium sulphate can be given for torsades or if hypomagnesia is found/suspected.

Long term anti-arrhythmic therapy may be indicated to prevent recurrence of VT. Beta-blockers and a number of class III anti-arrhythmics are commonly used. Lidocaine is now being replaced by amiodarone as the first line anti-arrhythmic treatment of VT.

For some of the rare congenital syndromes of VT, other drugs, and sometimes even catheter ablation therapy may be useful.

The implantation of an ICD is more effective than drug therapy for prevention of sudden cardiac death due to VT and VF, but may be constrained by cost issues,(RDM) and well as patient co-morbidities and patient preference.

Popular culture

VT is frequently referenced in the 1970s television series Emergency!

In the 2006 film Casino Royale, the protagonist, James Bond, suffers ventricular tachycardia from intoxication of digitalis and goes into cardiac arrest.

"V-Tach" is a commonly used term in the television shows Grey's Anatomy, Scrubs, ER, House and Flash Forward.

"V-Tach" is what "The Satin Slayer" from the American soap opera All My Children used to kill his victims.[5 ]


  1. ^ Wellens HJ, Bar FW, Lie KI. (1978). "The value of the electrocardiogram in the differential diagnosis of a tachycardia with a widened QRS complex". Am J Med 64 (1): 27–33. doi:10.1016/0002-9343(78)90176-6. PMID 623134.  
  2. ^ Brugada P, Brugada J, Mont L, Smeets J, Andries EW. (1991). "A new approach to the differential diagnosis of a regular tachycardia with a wide QRS complex". Circulation 83 (5): 1649–59. PMID 2022022.  
  3. ^ Baerman JM, Morady F, DiCarlo LA Jr, de Buitleir M. (1987). "Differentiation of ventricular tachycardia from supraventricular tachycardia with aberration: value of the clinical history". Ann Emerg Med 16 (1): 40–3. doi:10.1016/S0196-0644(87)80283-4. PMID 3800075.  
  4. ^ Stewart RB, Bardy GH, Greene HL. (1986). "Wide complex tachycardia: misdiagnosis and outcome after emergent therapy". Ann Intern Med 104 (6): 766–71. PMID 3706928.  
  5. ^ Watkins, Karen. "All My Children Daily Recaps (Continued from Page 2): Monday, February 12, 2007 -- I THOUGHT IT WAS A TRICK....". Retrieved 2007-10-31.  

Study guide

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

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Ventricular tachycardia is a condition in which the heart rhythm is excessively fast. Ventricular tachycardia can prevent the heart from circulating sufficient blood to oxygenate the body.

External Links

  • Excellent interactive page with various arrhythmias information including VT [1]


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