Non-sustained ventricular tachycardia is an abnormally fast heart rate that occurs in the lower chambers of the heart and lasts for less than 30 seconds.

Tachycardia is a heart rate that is faster than normal. Ventricular tachycardia is tachycardia which begins in the ventricles, which are the lower chambers of the heart.

There are two types of ventricular tachycardia: Sustained and non-sustained.

This article looks at the symptoms, causes, diagnosis, treatment, and outlook for non-sustained ventricular tachycardia.

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Non-sustained ventricular tachycardia (NSVT) is a type of arrhythmia, which is an abnormal heartbeat rhythm.

Ventricular tachycardia occurs in the ventricles and consists of three or more consecutive heartbeats at a rate of over 100 beats per minute.

The definition of NSVT is ventricular tachycardia that lasts less than 30 seconds. NSVT does not usually result in insufficient blood flow and does not usually require emergency medical treatment.

Vs. sustained

Sustained ventricular tachycardia (SVT) is ventricular tachycardia that lasts longer than 30 seconds or results in insufficient blood flow within 30 seconds and requires medical treatment.

Symptoms of NSVT may vary depending on age, other health conditions, and if a person has structural heart disease. Common symptoms include:

In severe cases, NSVT may lead to cardiac arrest or sudden cardiac death.

Some people may have no symptoms of NSVT, and people may only discover it through exercise stress tests or ambulatory monitoring, which looks at the heart’s electrical activity.

The most common cause of ventricular tachycardia is coronary artery disease, or ischemic heart disease, which is a decrease in blood flow to the heart due to blood vessel disease or damage.

Disorders that affect the heart conduction system, which controls the heartbeat, can cause ventricular tachycardia, including:

  • structural heart disease, which includes any condition affecting the structure of the heart
  • cardiomyopathy, which is a disease affecting the heart muscle
  • illegal drug use, such as methamphetamine or cocaine
  • side effects of certain medications
  • sarcoidosis, which is an inflammatory condition affecting organs in the body
  • congenital heart conditions, which are present from birth, such as long QT syndrome
  • electrolyte imbalance, which can affect the electrical activity of the heart

If people do not have any symptoms of NSVT, a doctor may identify the condition through routine screenings or testing for another reason.

When a person has symptoms, doctors may carry out a range of tests to find the underlying cause. These may include:

  • electrocardiogram (ECG), which measures the electrical activity of the heart for any abnormalities
  • exercise stress test, which measures the activity of the heart when it has to work harder and beat faster
  • echocardiogram, which uses ultrasound to create images of the heart and show its structure and function
  • coronary angiogram, which uses X-rays to examine the blood vessels of the heart
  • blood tests to measure electrolyte levels
  • CT scans and MRI scans of the heart
  • genetic testing, if doctors suspect a person may have inherited specific heart problems

People may also identify NSVT through devices not originally intended to diagnose ventricular tachycardia. Certain devices, such as pacemakers and insertable cardiac monitors, may detect NSVT.

Treatment for NSVT may include the following:

  • medications for arrhythmias
  • radiofrequency ablation, which uses heat energy to destroy the cells that are causing the irregular heartbeat
  • surgery to place a cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) — an implant that monitors a person’s heart rhythm and provides an electrical shock to regulate the irregular heartbeat

If NSVT causes cardiac arrest, people will require immediate medical treatment with a defibrillator.

According to a 2023 article, NSVT may increase the risk of:

  • heart attack
  • stroke
  • coronary heart disease
  • sudden cardiac death
  • all-cause mortality, which is death due to any cause

Outcomes for NSVT can vary widely, though, and the condition ranges from benign to more serious cases.

If people have no other heart problems, NSVT may be a benign condition. If people have structural heart disease, NSVT can be more serious and may result in severe complications and increase the risk of sudden cardiac death.

For people with no other heart problems or co-existing health conditions, the life expectancy may be similar to those without NSVT.

If heart muscle damage is present, the 2-year mortality rate may be around 30% without treatment. Having an implanted defibrillator device can help to improve survival significantly.

Those with heart muscle damage that results in ejection fraction may benefit from a defibrillator. Ejection fraction refers to how well the heart pumps and ejects blood.

The following are commonly asked questions about ventricular tachycardia.

What is life expectancy with ventricular tachycardia?

The life expectancy with ventricular tachycardia may depend on the underlying cause and whether or not people have structural heart disease.

If there is no known cause for ventricular tachycardia and no co-existing health problems are present, the outlook is positive and the life expectancy may be similar to people without ventricular tachycardia.

However, ventricular tachycardia relating to ischemic cardiomyopathy may have the least favorable outlook. Ischemic cardiomyopathy refers to heart damage, in which the heart is unable to pump blood properly.

The two-year mortality rate for people with ventricular tachycardia relating to ischemic cardiomyopathy is around 30% without treatment.

Treatment with a defibrillator implant has been shown to result in a significant decrease in sudden cardiac death and may help improve survival.

Is ventricular tachycardia a form of heart failure?

Heart failure is a condition in which the heart does not pump blood properly, which results in a lack of oxygen and blood reaching the body.

Ventricular tachycardia is a type of abnormal rhythm, which can result from a damaged heart in those who have heart failure.

NSVT is a type of arrhythmia that occurs in the ventricles, the lower chambers of the heart.

It can be serious, particularly if structural heart disease is also present. NSVT can be life threatening as it may cause cardiac arrest or sudden cardiac death.

If no other health conditions are present, NSVT may be a benign condition, and it may not affect a person’s life expectancy.

Early diagnosis and treatment for NSVT can help to improve outlook. Treatment may include medications and implantable devices to help control the irregular heartbeat.