What is paroxysmal supraventricular tachycardia?
This heart arrhythmia (the medical term for an abnormal heart rhythm) is frequently misdiagnosed as a panic attack because it typically occurs in structurally normal hearts and often begins in healthy young people, although it can start at any age. And it can be accompanied by intense anxiety.
Before she was finally diagnosed correctly, Lynn was prescribed anti-anxiety medication. She tried to convince herself she had a mental disorder, not a cardiac problem. But the racing out-of-the blue heart episodes continued until she finally was afraid and panicked to go to the store, exercise, or take on a new position she was offered. She clocked her pulse rate during one of her “attacks” at 190 beats a minute.
Lynn went to several doctors seeking help. Imaging tests showed her heart was structurally fine, and she had no symptoms or signs of heart disease. A brief electrocardiogram (EKG), a test that measures the heart’s rhythm and electrical activity on a moving strip of paper or a line on a screen, recorded nothing abnormal. So her doctor agreed on a holter monitor, a battery-operated portable device that recorded her heart rate and rhythm for 48 hours.
But her heart didn’t race at all — until the monitor was removed. Hours later, she experienced another episode of her heart beating nearly 200 times a minute. But with no proof, her diagnosis remained “panic attacks.”
Finally, she saw a cardiologist who listened carefully to her symptoms and kept her on a holter for a month until an episode was recorded. Finally, here was proof she had an actual heart condition — an arrhythmia.
The diagnosis of PSVT filled Lynn with relief and hope. She learned not only that PSVT is benign but that it can be treated and even cured.
January 25, 2018
Christopher Nystuen, MD, MBA