UMEM Educational Pearls

Category: Cardiology

Title: tachycardia: SVT or ST?

Keywords: supraventricular tachycardia, sinus tachycardia (PubMed Search)

Posted: 5/9/2010 by Amal Mattu, MD (Updated: 1/26/2022)
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The most likely considerations for a regular, narrow complex tachycardia are sinus tachycardia (ST), atrial flutter with 2:1 conduction, and supraventricular tachycardia (SVT, a generic terms that encompasses a few remaining rhythms originating above the ventricle). Atrial flutter is diagnosed when one sees atrial beats at a rate of 250-350/minute.

The distinction between ST and SVT can be difficult at very rapid rates. Here are a few clues that may help in this distinction:
1. Generally the maximal sinus rate that a patient produces will be 220-age. That means that a 20 year old can possibly have a ST up to 200 beats/min, but a 70 year old can only have a ST has fast as 150 beats/min. Rates that exceed that simple formula are extremely unlikely to be ST.
2. If the rate varies with respiration, with positional changes, with relaxation, or with fluid administration, these all favor ST.
3. If the rate reduces slowly, it favors ST. SVT, on the other hand, tends to "break" suddenly.
4. SVT generally will either have no P-waves visible or there may be P-waves just after the QRS complexes. These are referred to as retrograde Ps.
5. History, history, history. Is there a reason for tachycardia, for example a history consistent with dehydration or anxiety? That favors ST. If the patient reports palpitations or other symptoms that were of abrupt onset, that favors SVT.
6. Valsalva maneuvers may gently slow down ST but will either not affect SVT or will abruptly break the SVT....SVT shouldn't gently slow down.