Supraventricular Tachycardia: Care Instructions

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Your Care Instructions

Cross section of the heart, showing its electrical system

Having supraventricular tachycardia (SVT) means that from time to time your heart beats abnormally fast. This fast rhythm is caused by changes in the electrical system of your heart. You may feel a fluttering in your chest (palpitations) and have a fast pulse. When your heart is beating fast, you may feel anxious and light-headed, be short of breath, and feel discomfort in the chest.

Your doctor may prescribe medicines to help slow down your heartbeat. Your doctor may also suggest you try vagal manoeuvres when having an episode of SVT. These are things, like bearing down, that might help slow your heart rate. Bearing down means that you try to breathe out with your stomach muscles but you don't let air out of your nose or mouth. Your doctor can show you how to do vagal manoeuvres. He or she may teach you do them while lying on your back.

In some cases, either cardioversion treatment or a procedure called catheter ablation is done to correct SVT.

Your doctor may ask you to wear a small electronic device for 1 or 2 days to monitor your heart. It is called a Holter monitor.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse call line if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

How can you care for yourself at home?

  • Take your medicines exactly as prescribed. Call your doctor or nurse call line if you think you are having a problem with your medicine. You will get more details on the specific medicines your doctor prescribes.
  • If your doctor showed you how to do vagal manoeuvres, try them when you have an episode. These manoeuvres include bearing down or putting an ice-cold, wet towel on your face.
  • Monitor your condition by keeping a diary of your SVT episodes. Bring this to your doctor appointments.
    • Write down how fast or slow your heart was beating. To count your heart rate:
      1. Gently place 2 fingers of your hand on the inside of your other wrist, below your thumb.
      2. Count the beats for 30 seconds.
      3. Then, double the result to get the number of beats per minute.
    • Write down if your heart rhythm was regular or irregular.
    • Write down the symptoms you had.
    • Write down the time of day your symptoms occurred.
    • Write down how long your symptoms lasted.
    • Write down what you were doing when your symptoms started.
    • Write down what may have helped your symptoms go away.
  • If they trigger episodes, limit or avoid alcohol or drinks with caffeine.
  • Do not use over-the-counter decongestants, herbal remedies, diet pills, or "pep" pills, which often contain stimulants.
  • Do not use illegal drugs, such as cocaine, ecstasy, or methamphetamine, which can speed up your heart's rhythm.
  • Do not smoke. Smoking can make this condition worse. If you need help quitting, talk to your doctor about stop-smoking programs and medicines. These can increase your chances of quitting for good.
  • Talk to your doctor about doing physical actions called vagal manoeuvres. These include coughing or putting your face in ice-cold water.
  • Be alert for new or worsening symptoms, such as shortness of breath, pounding of your heart, or unusual tiredness. If new symptoms develop or your symptoms become worse, call your doctor or nurse call line.

When should you call for help?

Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • You passed out (lost consciousness).
  • You have symptoms of a heart attack. These may include:
    • Chest pain or pressure, or a strange feeling in the chest.
    • Sweating.
    • Shortness of breath.
    • Nausea or vomiting.
    • Pain, pressure, or a strange feeling in the back, neck, jaw, or upper belly or in one or both shoulders or arms.
    • Light-headedness or a sudden weakness.
    • A fast or irregular heartbeat.
    After you call 911, the operator may tell you to chew 1 adult-strength or 2 to 4 low-dose aspirin. Wait for an ambulance. Do not try to drive yourself.

Call your doctor or nurse call line now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You have fluttering in your chest (palpitations) that does not go away quickly.
  • You have frequent palpitations.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse call line if you have any problems.

Where can you learn more?

Go to https://www.healthwise.net/patientEd

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