Skip to Content


Tachycardia is an abnormally fast heartbeat, causing the heart to beat more than 100 times per minute at rest. There are three types of tachycardia: sinus, supraventricular, and ventricular. Changes from the normal sequence of the heart’s electrical impulses cause all three types of this heart rhythm problem.

The UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute's Cardiac Electrophysiology Program treats arrhythmias like tachycardia, and other heart disorders associated with a high risk of sudden death.

Contact the UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute

To request an appointment, contact the UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute:

What Is Tachycardia?

A normal heart rate in adults is usually between 60 and 100 beats per minute. Tachycardia is a fast or racing heartbeat where the heart beats over 100 times a minute at rest.

When the heart’s electrical signals happen too fast, it can cause one of three types of tachycardia:

  • Sinus is a normal response to exercise or other common conditions. The heart rate is faster, but the heart still beats how it should.
  • Supraventricular keeps the heart’s upper chambers from filling up with blood, limiting blood flow to the rest of the body. It’s rarely life-threatening.
  • Ventricular starts in the heart’s lower chambers, causing the heart to beat so fast the chambers can’t fill with blood. It can be life-threatening and requires the care of a heart expert.

Tachycardia types, causes, and complications

Although some types of tachycardia are mild, ventricular tachycardia can be life-threatening and requires immediate medical attention.

Sinus tachycardia

  • Rapid firing of the sinoatrial node — the natural pacemaker of the heart — when the body needs extra oxygen
  • Occurs normally in response to:
    • Exercise
    • Excitement or fear
    • Pain
    • Fever
    • Excessive thyroid hormone secretions
    • Stimulants (such as caffeine, alcohol, cold medicines, methamphetamine, cocaine)

Paroxysmal supraventricular tachycardia (Psvt)

  • Bouts of rapid, regular heart beating that originate in the atrium (the upper chambers of the heart)
  • Typically not life-threatening
  • Causes symptoms of:
    • Palpitations
    • Chest discomfort
    • Shortness of breath
    • Dizziness
    • Fainting

Ventricular tachycardia (V-Tach)

  • Rapid heart beat originating in the ventricles
  • Less blood to be pumped through the body
  • Most often caused by other heart or vascular problems, such as:

Why choose UPMC's Cardiac Electrophysiology Program for tachycardia care?

The UPMC Cardiac Electrophysiology Program is the largest in western Pennsylvania and one of the largest in the United States.

Our care team has experience diagnosing and treating tachycardia, as well as other heart rhythm disorders.

What distinguishes our electrophysiology program?

  • Our subspecialty centers — for evaluating and managing tachycardia and other cardiac arrhythmias, as well as infected implanted pacemakers and other heart rhythm devices.
  • Our program leaders — pioneers of novel ablation procedures for restoring normal heart rhythm.

Tachycardia Symptoms and Diagnosis

Tachycardia symptoms

If you have tachycardia, your heart can beat very fast — over 100 times a minute at rest.

Tachycardia symptoms may include:

  • Dizziness
  • Light-headedness
  • Fluttering in the chest
  • Fainting

Diagnosing tachycardia

During your physical exam, your doctor at the UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute's Cardiac Electrophysiology Program will:

  • Ask about your symptoms and when they started.
  • Discuss your medical history.
  • Listen to your heart with a stethoscope.

To confirm a diagnosis of tachycardia, your doctor may order additional tests and procedures such as:

  • An electrocardiogram (EKG)
  • An echocardiogram
  • A Holter monitor
  • An exercise stress test
  • A tilt table test
  • Invasive electrophysiology tests
  • Blood tests

Tachycardia test results

Your doctor or nurse will tell you when to expect your test results and will call you when they're available.

Tachycardia Treatment

Rapid heart rates can originate from either the atria or the ventricles of the heart. The treatment for your tachycardia may vary between medication or surgery depending on the severity of your condition. Rhythms from the ventricle are more often considered life-threatening.

Treatment goals

At the UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute's Cardiac Electrophysiology Program, the goals of tachycardia treatment are to:

  • Minimize stroke risk
  • Control heart rate
  • Restore normal heart rhythm

Your doctor may prescribe medications and order certain procedures to meet these treatment goals.

Medicines for treating tachycardia

Medicines used to slow the heart rate:

  • Digitalis or Digoxin
  • Verapamil
  • Diltiazem (Cardizem®)
  • Metoprolol (Lopressor® or Toprol-XL®)
  • Atenolol

Medicines used to maintain a regular heart rhythm:

  • Sotalol (Betapace AF®)
  • Propafenone (Rhythmol®)
  • Amiodarone (Pacerone® or Cordarone®)

Medicines used to prevent clot formation and help reduce the risk of stroke:

  • Blood thinners such as:
    • Warfarin (Coumadin®)
    • Aspirin

Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy (SBRT) for Ventricular Tachycardia (V-tach)

SBRT is an experimental procedure for refractory ventricular tachycardia (V-tach), an arrhythmia that comes from the heart's lower chambers.

Doctors use SBRT if common treatments -- like drugs and catheter ablation — fail to control your v-tach.

SBRT involves the delivery of focused, intense doses of radiation to a small area of the heart.

Doctors use imaging scans to:

  • Find the area of the heart causing the arrhythmia.
  • Target the treatment.
  • Help reduce the potential risks of damage, such as scarring, to tissue around the heart.

SBRT can treat a larger area of the heart than catheter ablation.

The procedure is noninvasive. In most cases, it lasts under an hour and you can go home the same day.

You will have frequent, extensive follow-up visits to check on SBRT's long-term effects.

Is SBRT an option for me?

Currently, SBRT is only for people with refractory V-tach who have tried other treatments without success.

Early data suggest SBRT can be more successful than other treatments in reducing arrhythmia in people with v-tach. But because SBRT is an experimental treatment, more long-term data is needed to determine its effectiveness.

Tachycardia Educational Materials

The UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute offers educational information and videos about tachycardia, arrhythmias, and other heart and vascular diseases and treatments.

Many people find these resources helpful in answering their questions about tachycardia and preparing them for their procedure or diagnostic test.

The links below will open a new browser window. 

From the American Heart Association

From our Health Library at