Responsiveness to Adenosine Does Not Confirm SVT Diagnosis


FREE PREVIEW. AAFP members and paid subscribers: Log in to get free access. All others: Purchase online access.

FREE PREVIEW. Purchase online access to read the full version of this article.

Am Fam Physician. 2016 Aug 1;94(3):185a-189.

Original Article: Diagnosis and Management of Common Types of Supraventricular Tachycardia

Issue Date: November 1, 2015

Available online at:

to the editor: This article was well written and provided the right amount of detail for primary care clinicians. However, the assertion that adenosine can be used to reliably distinguish ventricular tachycardia (VT) from supraventricular tachycardia (SVT) with aberrancy is simply not true. Guidelines from the American Heart Association endorse the use of adenosine when a wide complex tachycardia is suspected to be the result of SVT with aberrancy, but arrhythmia termination with adenosine does not prove that the patient has SVT.1

VT may also be responsive to adenosine in some situations. Although VT can be ruled in or made more or less likely using the Brugada criteria mentioned in the article, there is no way to rule it out. Adenosine likely is safe for treating a patient with VT acutely and may work to break the arrhythmia, but labeling a patient with adenosine-responsive VT as having SVT with aberrancy and sending him or her home could result in disastrous outcomes. VT is a deadly arrhythmia with serious underlying causes, such as acute coronary syndrome, dilated cardiomyopathy, myocarditis, and valvular heart disease.

Because the consequences are so grave, my practice is to treat all regular wide complex tachycardias as VT, unless I have a cardiologist immediately available to review both the old and new electrocardiographs. More information about adenosine-responsive VT is available.24

Author disclosure: No relevant financial affiliations.


show all references

1. Blomstrom-Lungvist C, Scheinman MW, Aliot EM, Alpert JS, Calkins H, Camm AJ, et al. ACC/AHA/ESC Guidelines for the management of patients with supraventricular arrhythmias: executive summary. Circulation. 2003;108(15):1871–1909....

2. Jane-Wit D, Batsford W, Malm B. Ischemic etiology for adenosine-sensitive fascicular tachycardia. J Electrocardiol. 2011;44(2):217–221.

3. Lenk M, Celiker A, Alehan D, Koçak G, Ozme S. Role of adenosine in the diagnosis and treatment of tachyarrhythmias in pediatric patients. Acta Paediatr Jpn. 1997;39(5):570–577.

4. Nickson C. Wide, complex and troublesome. November 19, 2015. Life in the Fastlane blog. Accessed December 11, 2015.

in reply: Adenosine-sensitive VT, sometimes known as ventricular outflow tract VT or idiopathic VT, is a form of VT that occurs in otherwise structurally normal hearts. It is believed to occur in 10% of patients with VT.1 It can present as exercise-induced sustained VT. Although adenosine has diverse electrophysiologic effects in supraventricular myocardium, its effect in ventricular myocardium is based solely on its inhibitory effects on adenylyl cyclase and cyclic adenosine monophosphate (cAMP).2 This means that only cAMP-mediated VT is sensitive to adenosine, and that VT that originates from a focus within the ventricular outflow tract (usually the right) is caused by cAMP-mediated activity. Adenosine has no antiarrhythmic effect in catecholamine-dependent reentry or other types of VT. Accordingly, adenosine termination of VT is diagnostic of cAMP-mediated triggered activity, which is what accounts for most forms of right and left ventricular outflow tract tachycardia.

Until recently, outflow tract ventricular arrhythmias (including premature ventricular contractions) were considered benign, and this remains the case for most patients. However, it is now appreciated that some outflow tract arrhythmias trigger polymorphic VT, ventricular fibrillation, or sudden cardiac death, or result in cardiomyopathy.3

Dr. Firth is correct in asserting that this condition may be overlooked and deprive the patient of the opportunity to have the malignant arrhythmia managed with radiofrequency catheter ablation or an internal defibrillator. At present, there is not an agreed-upon parameter to distinguish between benign and malignant VT in these patients. Certainly the expertise of a cardiac electrophysiologist is indicated for management. Most experts and guidelines agree with the recommendation that all regular wide complex tachycardia should be managed as VT.

Author disclosure: No relevant financial affiliations.


1. Morin DP, Lerman BB. Management of ventricular tachycardia in the absence of structural heart disease. Curr Treat Options Cardiovasc Med. 2007;9(5):356–363.

2. Lerman BB. Ventricular tachycardia: mechanistic insights derived from adenosine. Circ Arrhythm Electrophysiol. 2015;8(2):483–491.

3. Lerman BB. Outflow tract ventricular arrhythmias: an update. Trends Cardiovasc Med. 2015;25(6):550–558.


Copyright © 2016 by the American Academy of Family Physicians.
This content is owned by the AAFP. A person viewing it online may make one printout of the material and may use that printout only for his or her personal, non-commercial reference. This material may not otherwise be downloaded, copied, printed, stored, transmitted or reproduced in any medium, whether now known or later invented, except as authorized in writing by the AAFP. Contact for copyright questions and/or permission requests.

Want to use this article elsewhere? Get Permissions

CME Quiz


Oct 15, 2016

Access the latest issue of American Family Physician

Read the Issue

Email Alerts

Don't miss a single issue. Sign up for the free AFP email table of contents.

Sign Up Now

Navigate this Article