Supraventricular tachycardia (SVT)

Teresa and I had more reason than usual to be thankful yesterday on Thanksgiving Day.

We had just come into church – our church holds a special thanksgiving service – when Teresa felt something weird going on. She sat down for a moment in the parent’s room, but it didn’t go away. Her heart was racing … pounding so hard it felt almost as if it was trying to leap out of her chest.

Leaving Ethan and Gabrielle with my parents, we took Aidan and drove straight to the hospital.

We had almost zero wait time, as it was obvious Teresa needed help, and the words “heart irregularity” seem to get the attention of triage nurses fairly quickly. Within minutes she was on a stretcher, in a room, and hooked up to 2 or 3 different machines, monitors, plus an IV drip.

We could now see her heart rate on the monitor, and it was fairly steady around 180. Her normal heart rate is VERY low, around 60. By this time Teresa was feeling tingly in all her extremities and in danger of fainting … and we were praying.

The doctor came in quickly and took a look at her heart rate, symptoms, and listened to the pumping of her heart. Within minutes, he diagnosed it as Supraventricular tachycardia (SVT), and prescribed a drug.

It was comforting to have a name for the disease, and that it was a known condition, if not common. But Teresa was not doing well. SVT is apparently some kind of electrical malfunction of the heart – a nerve that has a feedback loop and keeps re-stimulating the heart to higher beats per minute. This is both hard on the heart and on the body: when beating that quickly, the heart is far less efficient in pumping blood – hence the tingling in Teresa’s extremities.

The doctor first tried to get Teresa to shock her own heart out of its race condition by contracting her stomach and torso muscles hard. She tried, and her heart rate spiked up to 232 beats per minute, then settled back down to 180-190.

Then the doctor injected the drug into her IV drip. I forget the name, but basically what it did was stop her heart and restart it. Kind of a biological apachectl restart. Scary enough on a website. Kind of terrifying, if you think about it, on someone you love.

The drug passed through her system in 14 seconds, and Teresa’s heart rate started coming down. Within a minute it was under 100, and we knew we were out of the woods. Half an hour later, 2 electro-cardiograms, and 21 detached sensors later, we were on our way out of the hospital.

Teresa has a follow-up appointment with her own physician this week, and probably a battery of other tests, but we’re hoping that she’s fine now. And we’re thanking God that her life has been spared.

Apparently SVT strikes at almost random times. Teresa remembers having it once, for about 16 minutes, when she was pregnant with our son Aidan.

If it strikes too often, the doctors can try to cauterize the offending nerve, or they can, at last resort, install some kind of pacemaker device. But most people who have experienced SVT have it very infrequently, and that’s out hope and prayer for Teresa.