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SVT and WPW Ablation

(Supra-ventricular tachycardia and Wolf-Parkinson-White Syndrome ablation)

What is SVT?


Arrhythmias that involve the upper chambers of the heart are often referred to as SVTs (supraventricular tachycardias) and can often be treated with an SVT ablation. These arrhythmias cause the heart to suddenly beat very quickly due to an electrical ‘short circuit’ and can cause symptoms such as dizziness or fainting, shortness of breath, palpitations or sometimes chest pain/discomfort. 


Common examples of SVT include a short circuit that occurs in the middle of the heart around the AV node (AVNRT or atrio-ventricular nodal re-entrant tachycardia), a short circuit that travels down the normal conduction system of the heart and then back up an accessory or extra pathway (AVRT or atrio-ventricular re-entrant tachycardia) or a short circuit or focus that occurs completely within the hearts upper chambers or atria (AT or atrial tachycardia). How these short circuits travel is shown in the diagram below.

What is WPW Syndrome?

Wolf-Parkinson-White Syndrome or WPW Syndrome for short, is a condition where a person is born with an extra/accessory pathway (or electrical circuit) that connects the top and bottom chambers of the heart (the atria and the ventricles). If this pathway enables a 'short circuit' where electrical activity travels down the hearts normal electrical system and back up the accessory pathway continuously this causes the heart to beat very quickly (SVT) and is called WPW Syndrome. Extra/accessory pathways may be capable of very rapid electrical conduction and can increase a person's chances of cardiac arrest as well. The risk of this serious complication in a person without symptoms is around 0.1% per year and is likely to be higher in people with symptoms. WPW can often be treated and cured with ablation. 


An SVT/WPW Ablation

SVT or WPW (which can cause SVT) can be treated with an ablation procedure to cauterise an extra or accessory pathway with ≥95% success for a single procedure. In the case of atrial tachycardia success rates range between 60-95% depending on the type of circuit and whether or not the arrhythmia can be induced (brought on) at the time of the study. Sometimes medications similar to adrenaline can be used to help bring on these arrhythmias. 


An SVT ablation itself will generally take between 1-2 hours (sometimes longer for more challenging cases). Most procedure are performed under ‘twilight sedation’ with local anaesthesia used for placing the sheaths (small tubes) into the femoral vein (vein at the top of the leg). An SVT ablation can be performed under general anaesthesia if there is a particular reason but often if too much sedation is given it can be harder to induce the arrhythmia and find the ‘short circuit’. 


Usually three or four electrical catheters (~2mm in diameter) are passed up the femoral vein and inferior vena-cava to the heart using X-ray guidance (in some situations such as pregnant patients, procedures can be performed without any use of X-ray). These catheters can sense and record the electrical activation of the heart and can also pace the heart from different positions to speed it up. By pacing the heart more rapidly we can bring on the SVT or short circuit and then zero in on the critical areas for cauterisation/ablation. Often only one or two carefully positioned ablations are required to successfully treat SVT. 


Sometimes ablation can be felt as some discomfort or heating within the heart but if this is the case more sedation or pain relief can be given. In general there is a 1:1000 chance of a potentially serious complication with SVT/WPW ablation such as a heart attack or stroke. The risk of bleeding around the heart requiring drainage (a needle passed below the rib cage to drain blood) is 1:500 and in the case of AVNRT where the short circuit is near the hearts normal conduction system the risk of requiring a permanent pacemaker is 1:400 with radiofrequency energy (cauterising) and 1:10,000 with cryoablation (freezing). 


For more reading about SVT you can visit or read the articles below. 




1.         Leitch J, Barlow M. Radiofrequency ablation for pre-excitation syndromes and AV nodal re-entrant tachycardia. Heart Lung Circ Jun    


2.         Medi C, Kalman JM, Freedman SB. Supraventricular tachycardia. Med J Aust Mar 2 2009;190:255-260.

3.         McElderry HT, Kay GN. Ablation of atrioventricular nodal reentry by the anatomic approach. In: Huang SKS, Wood MA, eds. Catheter Ablation

            of Cardiac Arrhythmias. Philadelphia:Saunders; 2006:325-346.

Heart Diagram SVT.jpg

The diagram above shows a normal heart with four chambers (right and left atria at the top and right and left ventricles at the bottom). The hearts normal electrical system is shown in yellow. Three different ‘short circuits’ that can cause SVT (supraventricular tachycardia) are shown. The short circuit in AVNRT is shown in blue. Here electrical activity travels down a ‘slow pathway’ in the AV node (zigzag line) and then back up the normal AV nodal pathway and so on. The electrical circuit that occurs in AVRT and in WPW syndrome is shown in green. Here electrical activity travels down the hearts normal conduction system but can return to the top chambers of the heart via an extra or accessory pathway (two black lines) and so forth in a continuous fashion.


Atrial tachycardia or AT is shown in purple. This most commonly results from a ‘hot focus’ or a few cells in the heart that fire off electrical impulses at an abnormally fast rate and these are then conducted down the hearts normal electrical system. 


The image above is an X-Ray of the heart during an SVT ablation. Three catheters are shown in the heart in different positions to record the electrical activation. In this case the electrical activation follows a short circuit in the centre of the heart (shown with arrows) that is known as typical AVNRT (a common form of SVT). Ablation was performed at the site of the extra pathway (labeled 'slow pathway') to treat and cure the SVT. 

SVT picture.jpg

The picture above shows an X-ray of the heart with three electrophysiology catheters positioned as labelled. This patient had SVT (AVRT) where electricity would travel in a short circuit down the hearts normal conduction system and back up an accessory pathway on the left side of the heart (similar to the green circuit shown in the previous picture). A single ablation at the site of this abnormal pathway (the position of the ablation catheter) terminated the SVT and abolished the accessory pathway.  

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