What Is Atrial Tachycardia?

Atrial tachycardia can cause heart arrhythmia.
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  • Written By: Emma Lloyd
  • Edited By: Lindsay D.
  • Last Modified Date: 05 April 2014
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Atrial tachycardia is one of several heart problems which can cause heart arrhythmia. The problem stems from an abnormal cardiac rhythm which occurs when the electrical impulses which regulate the heartbeat originate in the wrong area of the heart. It does have a low morbidity rate, but in children who are born with this heart abnormality the death risk is somewhat higher.

Within the heart is a small node of tissue known as the sinoatrial node, located in the right atrium, the upper right corner, of the organ. It is this node which originates the electrical impulses that cause the heart to beat, and which is responsible for setting the ‘pace’ of the heartbeat. In a person with atrial tachycardia, these electrical impulses come from the upper chambers of the heart, called the atria, instead of from the sinoatrial node.

A person who has this condition may experience what amounts to some very frightening symptoms, such as heart palpitations, pain or pressure in the chest, difficulty breathing, fainting, and dizziness. A feeling of fatigue which may be persistent despite periods of resting is another common symptom of atrial tachycardia. Children who are experiencing abnormal heart rhythm or other symptoms may find it difficult to articulate these sensations, but may simply express a need to rest or may have problems keeping up with other children at play.


Treatment for this condition may differ depending on what has caused the heart arrhythmia and accompanying symptoms. In the case of multiple atrial tachycardia (MAT), for example, the underlying cause is often chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, congestive heart failure, or another cardiac condition. In such cases treatment may be somewhat different from that prescribed for someone who experiences this condition as a result of a structural heart abnormality. In general, the cardiac arrhythmia is treated with medication to suppress the abnormal rhythm and restore a normal heartbeat.

Abnormal cardiac events of the kind that cause heart arrhythmia and rapid heartbeat can also be responsible for a much more benign condition called paroxysmal atrial tachycardia. This condition is characterized by an abrupt period of rapid heartbeat, typically between 160 and 200 beats per minute, along with other symptoms such as anxiety, dizziness, and heart palpitations. An episode of paroxysmal atrial tachycardia can occur in the complete absence of any heart disease or defect, and this condition is not usually dangerous. It can be very frightening, but it’s important to remember that unless other cardiac symptoms are present, there is usually no cause for alarm. A visit to the doctor to rule out serious problems is still in order, of course, as it’s never a good idea to ignore cardiac symptoms.


Discuss this Article

Post 4

@angelBraids - I'm no medical professional, but I have an interest in this subject because there is a history of heart problems in my family. That makes me a bit paranoid about any kind of change to my body.

It can't hurt to see a doctor, who will probably ask you about your lifestyle and family history. In my case when I drink a lot of coffee I tend to be more aware of my heart beating faster.

Post 3

I sometimes notice that I have a rapid heartbeat, though I feel fine in every other way. Is just the one symptom something I should worry about?

Post 2

@narnia219 - That's a really good point. Children need to be given ways to express their symptoms in language they understand.

Last year my niece seemed to be getting really tired and just generally not be her usual lively self. Her mother asked her 'what the feeling was like', and her reply was 'it's like a butterfly in my chest'.

I know some kids don't have any atrial tachycardia symptoms, so all in all it was kind of lucky that she did, and could get prompt treatment. She's doing fine now, but it was pretty scary when I first heard.

Post 1

If a child seems to be acting in the way mentioned in the article, it may be wise to ask some leading questions. For example, do you feel bad? They may say "yes" and they are simply tired or have a stomachache. However, by asking where they feel bad at, an answer like "In my chest" or "My heart feels funny" could be cause for concern.

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