Supraventricular tachycardia (SVT)

Your health expert: Dr Matthew Wright, Consultant Cardiologist
Content editor review by Victoria Goldman, Freelance Health Editor, June 2022.
Next review due May 2025.

Supraventricular tachycardia (SVT) is a type of abnormal heartbeat (arrhythmia) in which your heart beats too fast. It’s caused by faulty electrical signals in your heart.

What happens during supraventricular tachycardia (SVT)?

SVT is the term used when your heart beats faster than normal because of a problem that happens above your ventricles (the lower chambers of your heart). Your heartbeat is controlled by electrical signals (impulses) that travel through your heart and make it contract.

Watch our animation to see how your heart beats normally and what happens in SVT.

SVT is often caused by an extra electrical pathway (or pathways) in your heart between your atria (the top chambers of your heart) and your ventricles. This can make the electrical signals form a short circuit in your heart.

Normally, your heart beats between 60 and 100 times a minute when you’re resting. With SVT, you usually get episodes where your heart suddenly starts beating faster. During an episode of SVT, your heart may beat between 140 to 250 beats per minute. These episodes can last anything from a few seconds to several hours or, rarely, for more than 12 hours before going back to normal.

SVT can affect you at any age, even if you’re young and otherwise healthy. Most people are diagnosed in early childhood, in their early 20s or in their 40s – this depends on which type of SVT they have.

Types of supraventricular tachycardia (SVT)

There are several different types of SVT. Three common types are sinus tachycardia, Wolff–Parkinson–White (WPW) syndrome and atrio-ventricular nodal reciprocating tachycardia (AVNRT).

Sinus tachycardia

Sinus tachycardia means your heart beats in a normal, regular rhythm, but faster than normal. It's usually a normal response to changes in your body. It isn’t caused by a problem with the electrical signals in your heart. Your heart rate may increase when you’re pregnant, do strenuous exercise or feel stressed or anxious. It may also increase if you have caffeine or alcohol or take certain medicines or illegal drugs. Some medical conditions, such as an overactive thyroid gland (hyperthyroidism) or anaemia (a lack of iron), may increase your heart rate too.

Wolff–Parkinson–White (WPW) syndrome

WPW syndrome is caused by an extra electrical pathway between the atria and ventricles in your heart. The electrical impulses pass through your heart more quickly than normal and can also travel in the opposite direction. The extra pathway can lead to atrial fibrillation (when your atria start beating out of control) as well as SVT. WPW syndrome is usually something you’re born with – but you may not notice any problems until you’re much older.

Atrio-ventricular nodal reciprocating tachycardia (AVNRT)

AVNRT is caused by more than one connection to the atrio-ventricular node, which acts like a junction box and is between your atria and ventricles. This isn’t life-threatening.

Causes of supraventricular tachycardia (SVT)

SVT is usually due to extra pathways between the upper and lower chambers of your heart (the atria and ventricles). There are no specific SVT causes because you’re normally born with it. Most people with SVT don’t have any underlying problem with their heart or a health condition that causes SVT. But sometimes, other problems affecting your heart such as a previous heart attack or surgery on your heart can lead to the condition.

If you get SVT, you might find that various things trigger it. These may include:

  • certain types of medicine
  • drinking a lot of alcohol
  • caffeine
  • smoking
  • taking illegal drugs such as cocaine or speed

Symptoms of supraventricular tachycardia (SVT)

SVT doesn’t always cause symptoms. But this depends on several factors, including how long the episode of SVT lasts and how fast your heart rate is.

During an episode of SVT, you may:

  • get palpitations (when you can sense your heart thumping, fluttering or skipping beats)
  • have a pounding feeling in your neck
  • feel lightheaded and dizzy
  • feel short of breath
  • have chest pain or discomfort
  • pass out (but this isn’t common)

If you get any of these SVT symptoms and they’re relatively mild, go and see your GP. If you’ve already been diagnosed with SVT, you may be able to stop the symptoms yourself with some simple measures. (For more information, see our section on treatment of supraventricular tachycardia (SVT). If you feel like you may collapse and need urgent medical care, go to your nearest accident and emergency department.

More serious problems are rare with SVT but can happen with a particular type of SVT called Wolff–Parkinson–White (WPW) syndrome.

Diagnosis of supraventricular tachycardia (SVT)

Your GP will ask about your symptoms and examine you. They’ll want to know how often you’ve been having symptoms, what they feel like and if anything in particular seems to set them off. They’ll check your blood pressure, listen to your heartbeat and take your pulse. They’ll also ask about your medical history and maybe family history as well.

You’ll need to have a test called an electrocardiogram (ECG). An ECG records the electrical activity in your heart. You may be offered an ambulatory ECG, which records your heartbeat while you go about your usual activities over 24 hours or more. Or you may need to have an implantable loop recorder. This is a small device that’s implanted under your skin and is programmed to record abnormal rhythms. Your GP will refer you to a cardiologist (a heart specialist) if you need to have this. This may be someone who specialises in heart rhythm disorders (an electrophysiologist).

Your GP or cardiologist may also arrange for you to have some of the following tests.

  • Blood tests. These will check for substances that may be causing SVT, and for other conditions that may be causing your symptoms.
  • Echocardiogram. This test uses ultrasound to provide a clear image of your heart muscles and valves and can show how well your heart is working.3
  • Exercise ECG (cardiac stress test). This is when you have an ECG while you exercise on a treadmill to see if this triggers an arrhythmia.
  • Chest X-ray. This will allow your doctor to look for any changes in your heart or lungs that may be causing the problem.

Measuring your own pulse could be useful because it may help your doctor to see what happens when you have an attack. Devices such as smart watches and phones can help you monitor your symptoms. Ask your doctor about using these.

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Treatment of supraventricular tachycardia (SVT)

SVT treatment is aimed at stopping attacks and controlling your heart rhythm and rate to prevent further attacks. Which treatment you’re offered will depend on:

  • the type of SVT you have
  • how often you get symptoms
  • how severe they are
  • how long they last

Your doctor will discuss your SVT treatment options with you.

Stopping an attack

If you see a doctor while you’re having symptoms of SVT, they may need to give you treatment to stop the attack. This could include one of the following options.

  • Your doctor may apply pressure to an artery in your neck. For some types of SVT, this can help stop your heart beating so rapidly.
  • Valsalva manoeuvre. This involves lying down and blowing forcefully into a syringe, increasing the pressure in your chest. You can mimic this on your own – it may help you to pretend you’re constipated or giving birth.
  • Having antiarrhythmic medicines such as adenosine or verapamil through a drip into your bloodstream. Verapamil and betablockers can also be taken as tablets. These are useful as a ‘pill in the pocket’ strategy that you can take when needed.
  • Electrical cardioversion. This uses an electric shock to restore your rapid heartbeat to normal.

Long-term management

Whether or not you need any long-term SVT treatment depends on lots of things. These include:

  • the type of SVT you have
  • how often you get symptoms
  • how long they last
  • how they affect you


Your doctor may talk to you about avoiding certain things that can set off your SVT. These include:

If you can cut down or stop taking these, your SVT may reduce or stop. But you may go into SVT again. Certain medicines or other health conditions may also be linked to your SVT, and your doctor can help you to manage these. Your doctor may teach you how to do the Valsava manoeuvre yourself (you blow out forcefully to stop an attack of SVT).

Catheter (cardiac) ablation

You may be offered a procedure called catheter ablation (also called cardiac ablation), especially if you keep having regular attacks of SVT. This procedure involves inserting a small tube called an electrode catheter into a vein in your groin and using X-rays to pass it up to your heart. Radiofrequency waves are then delivered via the catheter to destroy any tissue that’s causing the abnormal electrical signals in your heart.

A catheter ablation can usually be done under local anaesthesia or sedation. This will help you to stay relaxed during the procedure which usually lasts an hour. You should be able to go home on the same day, but some people may need to stay overnight.

You should be able to get back to most of your normal activities quickly after a catheter ablation. Take it easy for a few days though. And you may want to take a couple of days off work, especially if you have a physically demanding job. Don’t lift anything heavy for at least two weeks. You won’t be able to drive for two days after your procedure (or at least two weeks if you drive a bus or lorry).


You may be prescribed some medicines to stop you having more SVT episodes. These include:

Always read the patient information leaflet that comes with your medicine and ask your pharmacist or doctor if you have any questions.

You should be able to go home on the same day as a catheter (cardiac) ablation and get back to most of your normal activities fairly quickly. But take it easy for a few days. For more information, see our section on treatment of supraventricular tachycardia (SVT).

Sinus tachycardia means your heart beats in a normal, regular rhythm, but faster than usual. It may be triggered by lots of things such as exercise, stress or certain medicines. There’s usually nothing wrong with your heart. For more information, see our section on types of supraventricular tachycardia (SVT).

WPW syndrome is a type of supraventricular tachycardia (SVT). It’s caused by an extra electrical pathway between your atria and your ventricles (the upper and lower chambers of your heart). For more information, see our section on types of supraventricular tachycardia (SVT).

You should be able to travel by aeroplane safely, as long as you have only occasional SVT symptoms that are generally well controlled. If your symptoms aren’t under control, you shouldn’t fly. Your GP or heart specialist can give you the correct advice. For more information, see our section on driving and travelling with supraventricular tachycardia (SVT).

SVT isn’t dangerous or life-threatening, but the symptoms can affect your daily life. So, it’s important to keep the condition under control with lifestyle changes, medicines or a procedure called catheter (cardiac) ablation. For more information on treatments, see our section on treatments of supraventricular tachycardia (SVT).

SVT doesn’t usually have a specific cause because you’re normally born with it. Some situations may trigger the situations, as well as certain medicines, alcohol or smoking. For more information, see our section on causes of supraventricular tachycardia (SVT).

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