On 1st December 2010, I went into hospital for a catheter ablation to try to cure my SVT. SVT is Supraventricular Tachycardia. I haven't really talked about it much on the internet, but one year on, I thought it would be a good time to write a post about my experience in case there is anyone else out there suffering a similar problem.

First for the technical stuff, what is SVT? Well, it's a rapid heartbeat that can occur randomly without warning, and the heart begins to palpitate at the rate of between 120-250 bpm. Mine used to go up to 240+. An attack of SVT can last anything from a few seconds to many hours, even days. Typically my SVT used to last for a couple of hours, but towards the end when I decided to go for the operation, it was continuing without stopping and could only be terminated with an injection of a drug called Adenosine. Whenever the doctors would prepare to inject me with the drug, they always warned that I would feel 'impending doom' as the drug took effect! What I actually felt was that I stopped breathing for a second or two, but just as panic was about to set in, my heart would thankfully start beating back in its normal rhythm.

SVT is horrible, and I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy. It can end up controlling your life. The attacks are random; you never know when you'll get another SVT. You could be sitting down, relaxing and it would start, without warning. That meant that I was always anxious, on edge as if waiting for the next attack... Things like booking holidays, even just travelling on public transport, going to meetings, or events, were always extra stressful.

I started having these rapid palpitations in 2001, but when I had the first attack, I thought it was a panic attack, and people were saying things to me like, 'You shouldn't get stressed about things, try to relax.' SVT doesn't care if you're relaxed. I was once asleep and woken up by SVT.

The next SVT I had was two years later. I knew the feeling, because the heart beats in a different pattern than the normal rhythm, so I knew it was the same thing I'd had a couple of years back, and was worried. It stopped after a couple of hours and I tried to forget about it. When I went to the doctor the next day, she told me to 'get some exercise' because my heart beat was slightly fast. She sent me for an ECG at the local hospital which came back fine (which it would, because SVT only shows up on the ECG when it's happening), and that was the end of that. I don't think that doctor had heard of SVT. In fact, it's the ignorance of the condition within the medical profession that makes it all the more stressful for the patient.

In reality, SVT is, in most cases a benign condition. One consultant told me that aside from being a bit of a 'nuisance', it can't cause any lasting damage. It would have been good to know that when I was in A&E on various occasions with nurses and doctors acting as if I was having a heart attack or dying.

When someone gets an attack of SVT, it really does feel like you are going to die. No matter what the doctors or consultants tell you. After all, your heart is beating off the scale and you can't stop it. It's very frightening. The best advice I can give someone who is having the attack is to stay calm and concentrate on your breathing. I found that the calmer I was the less severe an attack would be.

I had SVT once every year-and-a-half or so up until 2007 when I was diagnosed as having the condition. Each time I had an attack I felt sure I would die. That's how it makes you feel. Scary stuff.

When I finally saw a consultant, and he told me what was wrong, I really began to feel relaxed as if I would be more in control of the situation when I had an attack (at that time my attacks were not very frequent). He explained that I was born with two pathways in my heart instead of one, and that whenever I had an ectopic beat I was at risk of having SVT. Ectopic beats are fairly normal and most people have one every 24hrs although people with SVT have more each day. An ectopic beat is an extra heartbeat. My consultant told me about some techniques I could use to stop the SVT. One was to plunge my face in a bucket of freezing water!! Apparently that is the most effective. I was never brave enough to try it. I got as far as filling a bucket with water and ice cubes and then chickened out! The other technique was to take a deep breath, hold your nose, and blow, with your mouth closed. I believe it's called the Valsalva maneuver. This was quite effective for me and I managed to stop my SVT a few times using that. Another method I found on a forum, suggested by a fellow SVT sufferer was to lie down on your right hand side, in a foetal position, relax and concentrate on your breathing. That worked once or twice for me. I was also told to avoid sleeping on your left hand side (i.e. where the heart is situated) as apparently that can trigger an SVT attack. So, for more than 2 years I always slept on my right side!

In 2010, my SVT began to become more frequent and the techniques that had been working to stop it, were no longer working. I began to notice that I would get more ectopic beats when I was premenstrual, and most of my SVT attacks would happen then. I was told by a consultant that this type of heart problem is most common in young women and can be affected by the menstrual cycle.

I have to count myself lucky because as frightening as my SVT was it was benign and there were no other problems with my heart and no other health issues, so the procedure that I had to undergo to 'cure' it, went smoothly.

A catheter ablation is the most effective treatment for this condition and in 95-97% of cases it will cure the SVT. I have not had any attacks since the ablation last year and I am very thankful for that and glad I decided to go through with the ablation. Before my op, I was having one attack every month and having to go to A&E each time to have an injection of Adenosine. Yuck! I once overheard a conversation between a consultant and some trainee doctors, where he told them that the last time he'd injected someone with Adenosine the man had died because it had reacted with another drug he had taken. Not a great thing to hear when you know you would most likely have to have that drug injected again...

Other ways of treating SVT are by long-term medication, but there can be side effects and I am quite 'anti-drugs' of any kind, so it wasn't the route I wanted to take.

I must admit that in the weeks leading up to my ablation I was very frightened. I was again certain that I would die (sometimes having such an over-active imagination can be a burden!). When I was taken to the room where I would have the surgery, I was literally shaking like a leaf. I could not stop myself shaking. I was convinced they would not be able to operate because I was shaking so much. Luckily there is a wonderful drug that they gave me that they described as 'happy juice' and that did the trick. I was under sedation during the op, drifting in and out of consciousness. I had 5 catheters inserted in the large vein on my right leg, and they were positioned in different parts of my heart. Everything was viewed using x-rays, and I could see my heart on a screen up above me where they were doing the treatment.

Radiofrequency waves are used to 'burn' away the extra pathway that causes the SVT.

The op took about 2 hours, and after about 2-3 weeks my heart felt normal again.

I am so glad I have not had any further attacks. The anxiety I used to have has lessened over the year, and as time goes by I'm sure it will go away.

I hope the information in this blog post will help others who are going through this type of thing.
6 likes ·   •  12 comments  •  flag
Twitter icon
Published on November 30, 2011 10:54 • 994 views • Tags: catheter, catheter-ablation, heart, svt
Comments (showing 1-12 of 12) (12 new)    post a comment »
dateDown arrow    newest »

message 1: by J. Michael (new)

J. Michael Radcliffe Wow! What a terrifying ordeal to go through! I am so pleased that you have had a successful treatment that will correct the condition. Congratulations on your very happy one year anniversary! :)



message 2: by Jaleta (new)

Jaleta Clegg That does sound scary, Maria, both the condition and the cure. I'm glad you're doing better now. Any type of surgery is scary, I've been there more than I ever wanted to be. I got to spend several hours at the hospital this morning - my college age daughter finally got her tonsils out. Sitting in the waiting room is almost worse than being in the operating room as the patient. {{hugs}} to you for sharing.

message 3: by Lindsay (new)

Lindsay Glad you are doing so much better, Maria!

I have had issues with panic attacks and irregular heartbeats in the past (so much fun staying up all night Googling the stuff--and getting even more scared--because you can't sleep), though the funkiest thing the cardiologist could find with me was a murmur.

Eventually I figured out that supplementing with magnesium, potassium, and other trace minerals made my bouts disappear and my heartbeat stay normal. (Magnesium, in particular, is one we're often deficient in and which the muscles need, and the heart of course is a muscle). The panic attacks disappeared when I got off artificial sweeteners (I'd lived on Diet Coke for more than 20 years).

I'm trying to keep the diet better these days (less sugar/carbs and gluten and dairy -- I have allergies to the latter and wasn't always the best at avoiding those foods) in hopes that that'll keep me from being deficient in vitamins and minerals to start with.

Anyhoo, good luck! :)

message 4: by Quentin (last edited Nov 30, 2011 06:50PM) (new)

Quentin Born with an extra pathway in the heart? As the song goes, "It hadda be you." Seriously tho, helluva thing to live with. Glad you're ok.

message 5: by Maria (new)

Maria Thanks Michael,Jaleta, Lindsay, Quinn and Joel for your good wishes :)
Lindsay, you bring up a good point about diet. I was told that caffeine and alcohol could trigger the SVT, so towards the end I cut out coffee and alcohol. Then I had an SVT attack even though I hadn't had any of those stimulants, and ended up having to cut out chocolate too, because cocoa contains caffiene!! Can you imagine, no chocolate??? I'm pleased to say I now eats lots of it :)
I think our diet probably has more of an effect on our health than we really know. You're right about those minerals being important. I'm glad you found a way to avoid your panic attacks and irregular heartbeat :)
Joel, when I was going through the SVT, I always scoured the internet trying to find something positive I could take away; especially when I was deciding whether to have the ablation or not. Many people are put off because of the fear that it is a risky operation. I would say that if a consultant has recommended that someone has the ablation then they should definitely go for it. It's such a relief to not have to worry about the SVT all the time!

message 6: by Jess (new)

Jess Scott I'm glad the operation went well for you :O

To be honest, most of the post scares me, so I did not read it as thoroughly as I should have. But good to hear that the op went smoothly, and that your anxiety has lessened!

message 7: by Maria (new)

Maria Thank you, Jess. It is a bit of a horror story, I suppose. I'm glad to be rid of it!

message 8: by Jen (new)

Jen Knox You get more amazing by the day, Maria. I'm so sorry you had to go through that, but there's no doubt that a woman so strong can survive anything. I think every bit of pain we writers go through makes us stronger (though I can relate to the dangers of an overactive imagination), and you are a beautiful example of this. Most importantly, I am so glad you can eat chocolate again. I wouldn't wish a no-chocolate diet on any of my friends. :)

message 9: by Maria (new)

Maria Hi Jen, thanks for your lovely comments. I agree with that old saying of 'what doesn't kill you makes you stronger'. I think the experience with SVT has definitely changed me. When you're faced with possible death on a regular basis it changes the way you look at life. The anxiety was probably the worst aspect of it really. It's so true that there is nothing to fear but fear itself! I know you've been through similar struggles with your health, so you'll probably understand. And yes, I think making someone go without chocolate could be used as a torture method lol :)

message 10: by Julie (new)

Julie Powell Kind and brave - thinking of you.

message 11: by Mark (new)

Mark Rice Just saw this blog post, Maria. I had no clue what you'd been through with SVT. I'm happy to hear that this has been an attack-free year with diminishing anxiety. Here's a thought to further lower your anxiety levels: during the festive holidays, you can catch up on your chocolate eating. :-)

message 12: by Maria (new)

Maria lol, yes, I intend to do that :) Thanx Mark

back to top