Putting the brakes on a racing heart

A rapid heartbeat can be frightening, but this often-fleeting problem is usually harmless.

Image: © deeepblue/Thinkstock

If you're exercising or feeling very nervous, you expect your heart to beat faster than normal. But what if your heart sometimes starts racing out of the blue, for no apparent reason? You might have supraventricular tachycardia, or SVT. SVT is an umbrella term that covers several different types of rapid heart rhythms, all of which are caused by an electrical glitch in the upper part of the heart.

The most common SVTs are atrial fibrillation — a rapid, chaotic rhythm that increases the chance of having a stroke—and atrial flutter, a fast but usually regular heartbeat. But when cardiologists talk about SVT, they're usually referring to three different, less-common conditions (see "What is supraventricular tachycardia?").

To continue reading this article, you must login.
  • Research health conditions
  • Check your symptoms
  • Prepare for a doctor's visit or test
  • Find the best treatments and procedures for you
  • Explore options for better nutrition and exercise
Learn more about the many benefits and features of joining Harvard Health Online »