What is Atrial Tachycardia?

Emma Lloyd

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.

A person who is suffering from atrial tachycardia may experience chest pain and difficulty breathing.
A person who is suffering from atrial tachycardia may experience chest pain and difficulty breathing.

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.

Atrial tachycardia has a low morbidity rate.
Atrial tachycardia has a low morbidity rate.

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.

Atrial tachycardia can cause heart arrhythmia.
Atrial tachycardia can cause heart arrhythmia.

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.

Using illicit drugs can cause arrhythmia, heart palpitations and chest pain.
Using illicit drugs can cause arrhythmia, heart palpitations and chest pain.

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Discussion Comments


@anon958991: Your experience and symptoms are identical to mine. I am nearly 70 years old and have had this since I was a teenager. Medicines do contain it and keep it in check. However, I retired seven years ago and after that I no longer had the attacks and no longer needed the meds, evidently because I did not have stress and anxiety anymore. It was wonderful.

This past month mine have started again. They are not as strong or dramatic, but I have many, many per day now. The docs are trying to find a new med that does not make it worse. Many generics make it worse. Most brands are way too expensive so right now I am having to live with it. Good luck to both of us.


After a couple of months of going through often quite frightening episodes of racing heart,palpitations, chest tightness, feeling I was going to pass out, etc. (all the symptoms I've now read on here people have with AT), staying overnight in hospital, having ECGs and eventually wearing a 48 hour monitor then waiting four weeks for results, and thinking I was maybe going mad -- and it was all down to stress. It finally showed up that over the 48 hour period I'd had a couple of brief episodes of AT.

The recommendation was that I see a cardiologist which I have an appointment for in two weeks. I've been put on a beta blocker and that seems to have slowed my heart rate down and I've not had really bad palpitations since, but I do still come over funny even when just resting or watching TV. It happens almost every day at some point.

I'm doing all I can to help myself, such as completely cutting out caffeine. I don't smoke and hardly drink alcohol at all and before this started happening I had been walking every day for 30 minutes to get fitter and managed to lose 20 pounds. I was feeling so good and then this just seemed to come out of nowhere and has really affected my life because I haven't been able to continue walking the way I was and have to take everything more slowly, although these episodes happen even when I haven't exerted myself. Sometimes I have to just lie down and rest and I feel so tired a lot of the time. I'm aware the tiredness could be down to the beta blocker and I also have rheumatoid arthritis so that doesn't help.

What I have been looking for on here is to see if anyone who has/had AT been treated and are back to normal? I'm hoping that will be the case once I've seen the cardiologist. I often get the feeling of something lodged in my throat and the urge to go to the loo for a poo. Is that all part of it? Many thanks.


@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.


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?


@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.


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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