(See also Overview of Arrhythmias Overview of Arrhythmias The normal heart beats in a regular, coordinated way because electrical impulses generated and spread by myocytes with unique electrical properties trigger a sequence of organized myocardial... read more .)
Pathophysiology of Reentrant SVTs
The reentry pathway (see figure ) in supraventricular tachycardia may be
Within the atrioventricular (AV) node (about 50%)
An accessory bypass tract (40%) OR
Confined to the atria or sinoatrial (SA) node (10%)
AV nodal reentrant tachycardia occurs most often in otherwise healthy patients. It is most commonly triggered by an atrial premature beat Atrial premature beats Various rhythms result from supraventricular foci (usually in the atria). Diagnosis is by electrocardiography. Many are asymptomatic and require no treatment. (See also Overview of Arrhythmias... read more .
Accessory pathway reentrant tachycardia involves tracts of conducting tissue that partially or totally bypass normal AV connections (bypass tracts). They run most commonly from the atria directly to the ventricles and less commonly from the atrium to a portion of the conduction system or from a portion of the conduction system to the ventricle. They can be triggered by atrial premature beats or ventricular premature beats Ventricular Premature Beats (VPB) Ventricular premature beats (VPB) are single ventricular impulses caused by reentry within the ventricle or abnormal automaticity of ventricular cells. They are extremely common in both healthy... read more .
Wolff-Parkinson-White (WPW) syndrome
WPW (preexcitation) syndrome is the most common accessory pathway SVT, occurring in about 1 to 3/1000 people. WPW syndrome is mainly idiopathic, although it is more common among patients with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy is a congenital or acquired disorder characterized by marked ventricular hypertrophy with diastolic dysfunction (eg, due to valvular aortic stenosis, coarctation... read more or other forms of cardiomyopathy Overview of Cardiomyopathies A cardiomyopathy is a primary disorder of the heart muscle. It is distinct from structural cardiac disorders such as coronary artery disease, valvular disorders, and congenital heart disorders... read more , transposition of the great vessels Transposition of the Great Arteries (TGA) Transposition of the great arteries (in this case, dextro-transposition) occurs when the aorta arises directly from the right ventricle and the pulmonary artery arises from the left ventricle... read more , or Epstein anomaly Ebstein anomaly Other structural congenital cardiac anomalies include the following: Aortopulmonary window Congenitally corrected transposition Double outlet right ventricle Ebstein anomaly read more . There are two main forms of WPW syndrome:
In classic (or manifest) WPW syndrome, antegrade conduction occurs over both the accessory pathway and the normal conducting system during sinus rhythm. The accessory pathway, being faster, depolarizes some of the ventricle early, resulting in a short PR interval and a slurred upstroke to the QRS complex (delta wave—see figure Classic Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome Classic Wolff-Parkinson-White (WPW) syndrome ).
Classic Wolff-Parkinson-White (WPW) syndrome
Leads I, II, III, V3 through V6 show classic features of WPW syndrome, with a short PR interval and a delta wave during sinus rhythm.
The delta wave prolongs QRS duration to > 0.12 second, although the overall configuration, apart from the delta wave, may appear normal. Depending on the orientation of the delta wave, a pseudoinfarction pattern Q-wave may be present. Because the early depolarized parts of the ventricle also repolarize early, the T-wave vector may be abnormal.
In concealed WPW syndrome, the accessory pathway does not conduct in an antegrade direction; consequently, the above electrocardiographic (ECG) abnormalities do not appear. However, it conducts in a retrograde direction and thus can participate in reentrant tachycardia.
In the most common form of reentrant tachycardia (called orthodromic reciprocating tachycardia), the circuit uses the normal atrioventricular (AV) conduction pathway to activate the ventricles, returning to the atrium via the accessory AV connection. The resultant QRS complex is thus narrow (unless bundle branch block Bundle Branch Block and Fascicular Block Bundle branch block is partial or complete interruption of impulse conduction in a bundle branch; fascicular block is similar interruption in a hemifascicle of the left bundle. The disorders... read more coexists) and without a delta wave. Orthodromic reciprocating tachycardia is typically a short RP tachycardia with the retrograde P wave in the ST segment.
Rarely, the reentrant circuit revolves in the opposite direction, from the atrium to the ventricle via the accessory AV connection, and returning from the ventricle in the retrograde direction up the normal AV conduction system (called antidromic reciprocating tachycardia). The QRS complex is wide because the ventricles are activated abnormally. In patients with 2 accessory AV connections (not uncommon), a reciprocating tachycardia using one accessory connection in the antegrade direction and the other in the retrograde direction may occur.
Tachycardias in WPW syndrome may begin as or degenerate into atrial fibrillation Atrial Fibrillation and Wolff-Parkinson-White Syndrome (WPW) In Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome, antegrade conduction occurs over an accessory pathway. If atrial fibrillation, develops this is a medical emergency as very rapid ventricular rates can develop... read more (AF), which can be very dangerous if there is antegrade conduction over the accessory pathway (manifest WPW). In this case, the normal rate-limiting effects of the atrioventricular (AV) node are bypassed, and the resultant excessive ventricular rates (sometimes 200 to 300 beats/minutes) may lead to ventricular fibrillation Ventricular Fibrillation (VF) Ventricular fibrillation causes uncoordinated quivering of the ventricle with no useful contractions. It causes immediate syncope and death within minutes. Treatment is with cardiopulmonary... read more .
Symptoms and Signs of Reentrant SVTs
Most patients present during young adulthood or middle age. They typically have episodes of sudden-onset, sudden-offset, rapid, regular palpitations often associated with symptoms of hemodynamic compromise (eg, dyspnea, chest discomfort, light-headedness). Attacks may last only a few seconds or persist for several hours (rarely, > 12 hours).
Infants present with episodic breathlessness, lethargy, feeding problems, or rapid precordial pulsations. If the episode of tachycardia is protracted, infants may present with heart failure Heart failure Congenital heart disease is the most common congenital anomaly, occurring in almost 1% of live births ( 1). Among birth defects, congenital heart disease is the leading cause of infant mortality... read more .
Examination is usually unremarkable except for a heart rate of 160 to 240 beats/minute.
Diagnosis of Reentrant SVTs
Diagnosis of supraventricular tachycardia is by ECG Electrocardiography The standard electrocardiogram (ECG) provides 12 different vector views of the heart’s electrical activity as reflected by electrical potential differences between positive and negative electrodes... read more showing rapid, regular tachycardia. Previous tracings, if available, are reviewed for ECG signs of manifest WPW syndrome Classic Wolff-Parkinson-White (WPW) syndrome .
P waves vary. In most cases of AV node reentry, retrograde P waves are in the terminal portion of the QRS complex (often producing a pseudo-R′ deflection in lead V1); about one third occur just after the QRS complex, and very few occur before. P waves always follow the QRS complex in orthodromic reciprocating tachycardia of WPW syndrome.
QRS complex is narrow except with coexisting bundle branch block, antidromic tachycardia, or dual accessory connection reciprocating tachycardia. Wide-complex tachycardia must be distinguished from ventricular tachycardia (see table and figures Classic Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome Classic Wolff-Parkinson-White (WPW) syndrome and Narrow QRS tachycardia Narrow QRS tachycardia: Orthodromic reciprocating tachycardia using an accessory pathway in Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome ).
Pearls & Pitfalls
Narrow QRS tachycardia: Orthodromic reciprocating tachycardia using an accessory pathway in Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome
Activation is as follows: atrioventricular node, His-Purkinje system, ventricle, accessory pathway, atria. The P wave closely follows the QRS complex; it is a short RP interval tachycardia (PR > RP).
Treatment of Reentrant SVTs
Verapamil or diltiazem if narrow, regular QRS complex
For frequent recurrence, ablation
Many episodes stop spontaneously before treatment.
Vagotonic maneuvers (eg, Valsalva maneuver, unilateral carotid sinus massage, ice water facial immersion, swallowing of ice-cold water), particularly if used early, may terminate the tachyarrhythmia; some patients use these maneuvers at home.
AV node blockers are used if vagotonic maneuvers are ineffective and the QRS complex is narrow (indicating orthodromic conduction) and regular (indicating the episode is not atrial fibrillation); blocking conduction through the AV node for one beat interrupts the reentrant cycle. Adenosine is the first choice. Dose is 6 mg by rapid IV bolus (0.05 to 0.1 mg/kg in children), followed by a 20-mL saline bolus. If this dosage is ineffective, 2 subsequent 12-mg doses are given every 5 minutes. Adenosine sometimes causes a brief (2- to 3-second) period of cardiac standstill, which may distress patient and physician. Verapamil 5 mg IV or diltiazem 0.25 to 0.35 mg/kg IV are alternatives.
For a regular, wide QRS complex tachycardia known to be an antidromic reciprocating tachycardia not involving double accessory pathways (which must be identified by the history; they cannot be established acutely), AV nodal blockers may also be effective. However, if the mechanism of the tachycardia is unknown and ventricular tachycardia has not been excluded, AV nodal blockers should be avoided because they may worsen ventricular tachycardias. In such cases (or those in which drugs are ineffective), IV procainamide or amiodarone can be used. Alternatively, synchronized cardioversion Cardiac Resynchronization Therapy (CRT) The need for treatment of arrhythmias depends on the symptoms and the seriousness of the arrhythmia. Treatment is directed at causes. If necessary, direct antiarrhythmic therapy, including antiarrhythmic... read more with 50 joules (0.5 to 2 joules/kg for children) is quick and safe and may be preferred to these more toxic drugs.
When episodes of AV nodal reentrant tachycardia are frequent or bothersome, options include long-term antiarrhythmics or transvenous catheter ablation Ablation for Cardiac Arrhythmia The need for treatment of arrhythmias depends on the symptoms and the seriousness of the arrhythmia. Treatment is directed at causes. If necessary, direct antiarrhythmic therapy, including antiarrhythmic... read more . Generally, ablation is recommended, but if it is not acceptable, drug prophylaxis usually begins with digoxin and proceeds, as required, to beta-blockers, nondihydropyridine calcium channel blockers, or both, then to one or more class Ia, class Ic, or class III antiarrhythmics (see table Antiarrhythmic Drugs Antiarrhythmic Drugs (Vaughan Williams Classification) ). However, postadolescent patients with manifest Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome (in whom atrial fibrillation becomes more likely) should not receive digoxin or a nondihydropyridine calcium channel blocker alone (see also Atrial Fibrillation and Wolff-Parkinson-White Syndrome Atrial Fibrillation and Wolff-Parkinson-White Syndrome (WPW) In Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome, antegrade conduction occurs over an accessory pathway. If atrial fibrillation, develops this is a medical emergency as very rapid ventricular rates can develop... read more ).
Symptoms of reentrant supraventricular tachycardias begin and end suddenly.
Wolff-Parkinson-White (preexcitation) syndrome is the most common accessory pathway SVT.
QRS complexes are typically narrow, rapid, and regular; however, wide complexes may occur and must be differentiated from ventricular tachycardia.
Vagotonic maneuvers (eg, Valsalva maneuver) sometimes help.
Use atrioventricular (AV) nodal blockers for narrow complex tachycardia; adenosine is the first choice, and if ineffective, verapamil or diltiazem are alternatives.
Avoid AV nodal blockers for wide complex tachycardia; use synchronized cardioversion or procainamide or amiodarone.