The heart’s electrical system is responsible for controlling your heart rate and rhythm. When the heart beats too quickly, too slowly, or irregularly, it’s called an arrhythmia, or heart rhythm disorder.
NYU Langone heart rhythm specialists are experts at diagnosing and managing supraventricular arrhythmias, which are types of heart rhythm disorders that start in the atria, or upper chambers of the heart. They can happen at any time and typically start and end abruptly. There are often long periods of normal heart rhythms between episodes.
When the heart beats too fast—a state called tachycardia—it cannot effectively pump blood through the body. When this happens, you may experience symptoms including heart palpitations, dizziness or lightheadedness, shortness of breath, chest pain, tightness in the throat, sweating, or fainting. Sometimes, tachycardia can lead to cardiac arrest, in which the heart stops beating. Some arrhythmias cause no symptoms.
Supraventricular arrhythmia can be triggered by the following factors:
Supraventricular arrhythmia may also occur spontaneously without any obvious trigger.
There are several different types of supraventricular arrhythmias, including atrial fibrillation (AFib), atrial flutter, atrioventricular (AV) reentrant tachycardia, ectopic atrial tachycardia, and accessory pathway syndrome.
AFib and atrial flutter cause the heart’s upper chambers, called the atria, to beat chaotically and very rapidly. They are the most common types of arrhythmia, and can lead to life-threatening heart conditions, including stroke and heart failure.
Learn more about atrial fibrillation and atrial flutter.
The upper and lower chambers of the heart are electrically connected by a single area called the AV node. The AV node controls the timing of contractions that pump blood to the heart’s lower chambers, or ventricles. In atrioventricular reentrant tachycardia, people have two pathways for electrical impulses instead of just the one AV node. This causes the electrical impulses to travel in circles instead of directly from the upper to lower chambers of the heart. This can trigger an arrhythmia.
In people with ectopic atrial tachycardia, a small area of tissue in the atria can cause electrical impulses to fire suddenly, activating the heart to beat very rapidly. These small areas of tissue can be located anywhere in the atria.
People with accessory pathways have an extra connection between the upper and lower chambers of the heart. These are also called bypass tracts because they bypass the AV node, which is responsible for controlling heartrate. One type of arrhythmia associated with accessory pathway syndrome is Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome. These accessory pathways may often lead to tachycardia, which is associated with symptoms such as dizziness, palpitations, chest pain, and shortness of breath.
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