Abnormal heart rhythms or arrhythmias occur in about five percent of the general population. There are different types of arrhythmias, ventricular tachycardia being one of them. Understanding what ventricular tachycardia is, how it can affect you, and which signs to look out for are crucial in avoiding severe cardiac events. Wearable technology is also an effective means of monitoring your heart. Can your smartwatch be your heart health partner?
What Is Ventricular Tachycardia (VTach)?
Ventricular tachycardia (VTach) is a type of arrhythmia, which means abnormal heart rhythms. VTach is characterized by a fast heart rate of greater than 100 beats per minute originating from the heart's lower chambers. Most people with ventricular tachycardia have heart rates of more than 170 beats per minute. To fully understand ventricular tachycardia, you must first know how the heart works.
In a normal heart, the heart's muscles contract in response to electrical impulses fired by the SA (sinoatrial) node. This specialized area of the heart is located in the atria (right upper chambers) and is responsible for regulating the heart's beat. When a person has ventricular tachycardia, these electrical impulses originate from the heart's ventricles (lower chambers) instead of the SA node. In addition, the electrical impulses are faster and result in a more rapid heartbeat (heart rate greater than 100 beats per minute)
There are two types of VTach, depending on their frequency and duration:
- Sustained VTach: VTach lasting for 30 seconds or more
- Non-Sustained VTach: VTach lasting less than 30 seconds (usually no symptoms)
Some of the common causes of ventricular tachycardia are:
- Damaged heart muscles (from previous heart attacks or other heart problems)
- Poor blood flow to the heart
- Congenital heart disease
- Electrolyte imbalance
- Substance overdose (methamphetamine and cocaine)
- Medication side effects (some antiarrhythmic agents)
Ventricular tachycardia is diagnosed through an electrocardiogram (ECG) test wherein a physician attaches electrodes to your chest and arms to monitor the heart's electrical activity. This is a quick and painless procedure that can be done in minutes. The Holter Monitor is another test that can measure your heart's electrical activity in 24 hours.
Can Your Watch ECG Detect It?
Your smartwatch is more than just wearable technology. It can also be your best health ally. Smartwatches such as those from Apple and Samsung have ECG reading capabilities. This feature can help identify early signs of a heart problem. A study published in the National Library of Medicine shows that a smartwatch can detect abnormal heart rhythms like VTach. With this in mind, your smartwatch will not only remind you of your upcoming meetings, but it is also your partner in health.
How To Spot VTach on your Watch ECG
The following ECG characteristics can identify VTach:
- Heart rate being greater than 100 beats per minute
- Wide QRS complexes (greater than 120 milliseconds)
- P-waves not being visible
Your smartwatch ECG, like the Apple Watch, can pick up these readings. In turn, a medical professional can interpret these readings and help you make smart heart health decisions.
Any Cause for Concern?
Short episodes of VTach, like the ones in a non-sustained VTach, usually present with no symptoms and should not be an immediate cause of concern. However, they can be a sign of underlying conditions such as previous heart attacks, electrical heart disorders, heart failure, and other heart muscle abnormalities. They can also be an early warning sign of longer and more severe bouts of VTach.
A sustained VTach lasts for more than a few seconds and can lead to another cardiac event called ventricular fibrillation. In ventricular fibrillation, the heart beats at an erratic rate of up to 300 beats per minute. Ventricular fibrillation can cause the heart to stop beating and lead to sudden cardiac death. If you show signs of VTach, please contact your health care provider immediately.
What Are Common Symptoms and Treatment Options?
It's essential to have a professional evaluate your ECG reading if you feel any of the symptoms listed below. Some of the most common symptoms of ventricular tachycardia include:
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath
- Tightening sensation around the neck
There are various treatment options for ventricular tachycardia. Medical management is the most common treatment. It includes taking medications that can help slow the heart rate. Other managements involve surgically placing implantable devices such as a pacemaker and an implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD).
A pacemaker works by sending the correct electrical impulses to your heart to regulate the beat. In contrast, an ICD delivers a shock to your heart in cases where the beating becomes erratic. This shock "resets" the heart and reduces the chance of a VTach developing into ventricular fibrillation.
Still Not Sure How to Spot VTach on Your Watch ECG?
Frequent and sustained episodes of VTach can be potentially life-threatening. You are safeguarding your health by using your smartwatch to monitor your heart. A smartwatch can be your health partner, and with the right medical professional to interpret your results, you have better chances of spotting a VTach early on. Get your smartwatch ECGs reviewed by experts for arrhythmias within minutes on QALY (App Store or Android) and make better heart choices today.