The Ultimate Guide to Tachycardia: ACLS Algorithm, Management, and Treatment

The Ultimate Guide to Tachycardia: ACLS Algorithm, Management, and Treatment
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Tachycardia is a medical condition characterized by an abnormally high heart rate, typically over 100 beats per minute (bpm) in adults. This ultimate guide aims to provide an in-depth understanding of tachycardia, its causes, signs, and symptoms, and the Advanced Cardiac Life Support (ACLS) algorithms for managing and treating this condition effectively.

What is Tachycardia?

Tachycardia is a condition where the heart rate is faster than normal. In adults, a heart rate greater than 100 bpm is considered tachycardic. Tachycardia can be caused by various factors, including fever, medications, stress, metabolic dysfunction, hypoxemia, and more.

Signs and Symptoms of Tachycardia

Patients with a heart rate between 100 and 150 bpm typically experience few, if any, symptoms related to tachycardia. However, as the heart rate increases beyond 150 bpm, the likelihood of tachycardia being the cause of a patient's symptoms rises. The severity of these symptoms can vary depending on the individual and the underlying causes. The best course of action when a patient is experiencing tachycardia is following an ACLS algorithm.

Common symptoms associated with tachycardia include:

1. Shortness of Breath (Dyspnea)

Patients may experience difficulty breathing or feel like they cannot catch their breath. This can result from a reduced oxygen supply or an increased demand for oxygen.

2. Dizziness (Vertigo)

A sensation of lightheadedness, unsteadiness, or feeling as if the room is spinning can occur due to decreased blood flow to the brain. This may result from reduced cardiac output caused by the rapid heart rate.

3. Fainting (Syncope)

Some patients may experience a temporary loss of consciousness, usually lasting only a few seconds to minutes. This can happen when the rapid heart rate leads to inadequate blood flow to the brain.

4. Chest Pain (Angina)

Some patients may also feel discomfort, tightness, or pressure in the chest, often described as a squeezing or burning sensation. This occurs when the heart muscle does not receive enough oxygen due to the rapid heart rate, which can increase the risk of heart attack and other cardiac complications.

5. Rapid Pulse (Palpitations)

Patients may notice a sensation of their heart pounding or racing, sometimes felt in the chest, throat, or neck. This occurs as the heart tries to pump blood more quickly to compensate for the increased heart rate.

6. Fatigue

Patients with tachycardia may feel exhausted or weak. The heart is working harder to pump blood at a faster rate, resulting in increased energy expenditure.

7. Anxiety or agitation

The physical symptoms of tachycardia can cause patients to feel anxious or agitated, further exacerbating the rapid heart rate.

It is crucial to assess patients presenting with these symptoms to determine if tachycardia is the primary cause or if these symptoms indicate another underlying medical issue. A thorough primary and secondary survey will help healthcare providers accurately assess the patient's condition and initiate an ACLS tachycardia algorithm for treatment.

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Recall Tip:
The mnemonic "FAST RIDE" serves as a way to help you remember the symptoms of tachycardia by creating an association between a fast-paced, adrenaline-inducing experience and the rapid heart rate characteristic of tachycardia.

1. Fainting (syncope)
2. Anxiety or agitation
3. Shortness of breath (dyspnea)
4. Tired (Fatigue)
5. Rapid pulse (palpitations)
6. Intrathoracic pressure (chest pain/angina)
7. Dizziness (vertigo)
8. Exhaustion

The ACLS Algorithm for Tachycardia Management

The algorithm is designed to systematically evaluate and manage patients presenting with tachycardia, focusing on addressing the underlying cause and providing appropriate care. The key steps in managing tachycardia within the algorithm context are as follows:

ProMed Certifications Algorithms | Tachycardia With A Pulse ACLS Algorithm
The Tachycardia With A Pulse ACLS Algorithm is based on the latest AHA guidelines and was created to help you comprehend the material and get ACLS certified.
  1. Assess the patient's condition and stability: Perform a thorough assessment of the patient's signs and symptoms to determine if they are stable or experiencing cardiovascular instability, such as hypotension, signs of shock, acute heart failure, altered mental status, or ischemic chest pain. Consider the clinical context and the patient's history when evaluating their stability.
  2. Maintain an open airway and assist with breathing if necessary: In this step of the ACLS tachycardia algorithm, the provider should check the patient's airway for patency and obstruction. Provide supplemental oxygen or assist with ventilation if the patient has difficulty breathing or cannot maintain adequate oxygenation independently.
  3. Administer oxygen if hypoxic and monitor vital signs: Provide supplemental oxygen to maintain O2 saturation between 94% and 99%. Continuously monitor the patient's vital signs, including heart rate, blood pressure, respiratory rate, and oxygen saturation, to detect any changes in their clinical status.
  4. Place the patient on a cardiac monitor to identify the rhythm, blood pressure, and oximetry: Connect the patient to a cardiac monitor to continuously observe their heart rhythm, blood pressure, and oxygen saturation. This enables healthcare providers who follow the ACLS tachycardia algorithm to promptly identify any abnormalities or changes in the patient's cardiac rhythm that may require intervention.
  5. Obtain a 12-lead ECG: Acquire a 12-lead electrocardiogram (ECG) to assess the patient's cardiac rhythm in more detail. This will help identify the type of tachycardia (narrow or wide QRS complex), determine its origin, and guide appropriate treatment.
  6. Establish intravenous (IV) access: Set up an IV line to facilitate the administration of medications or fluids needed for the patient's clinical condition and the type of tachycardia they are experiencing.
  7. Initiate appropriate treatment: Depending on the patient's stability and the identified type of tachycardia, begin initiating the suitable ACLS tachycardia algorithm treatment plan. This may include vagal maneuvers, administration of medications such as adenosine, beta-blockers, calcium channel blockers, or antiarrhythmic drugs, or synchronized cardioversion.
  8. Consult an expert, if necessary: If the patient's tachycardia is not responsive to initial interventions, or if they have a complex or uncertain cardiac rhythm, seek expert consultation from a cardiologist or electrophysiologist for further guidance on treatment options.
  9. Continuously reassess the patient: Regularly reevaluate the patient's clinical status and response to interventions, adjusting the ACLS tachycardia algorithm treatment plan as needed to ensure optimal patient outcomes.

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Treatment of Tachycardia Based on Patient Stability

Unstable Patients:

  1. Perform synchronized cardioversion: For patients with unstable tachycardia, quickly initiate synchronized cardioversion to restore a normal heart rhythm. The energy levels for cardioversion vary depending on the type of rhythm (narrow/wide, regular/irregular).
  2. Consider sedation prior to cardioversion: If time permits and the patient is conscious, consider administering sedation to minimize discomfort during cardioversion. That said, do not delay treatment for the sake of sedation.

Stable Patients with Narrow QRS Complex (<0.12 seconds):

  1. Establish IV access: Set up an intravenous line for administering medications as stated in the ACLS tachycardia algorithm.
  2. Encourage vagal maneuvers: Instruct the patient to perform techniques, such as the Valsalva maneuver or carotid sinus massage, to potentially slow down their heart rate.
  3. Administer adenosine if the rhythm is regular: Give an initial dose of 6 mg IV rapid push, followed by a saline flush. If the first dose is unsuccessful, administer a second dose of 12 mg IV rapid push.
  4. Consider beta-blockers or calcium channel blockers: These medications can help control heart rate and may be used as an alternative or an addition to adenosine.
  5. Seek expert consultation: Consult a cardiologist or electrophysiologist for further guidance on managing the patient's tachycardia, especially if initial ACLS tachycardia algorithm treatments are unsuccessful.

Stable Patients with Wide QRS Complex (≥0.12 seconds):

  1. Establish IV access: Prepare an intravenous line for administering medications as needed.
  2. Consider adenosine for regular and monomorphic rhythms: Adenosine may be attempted if the rhythm is regular and the QRS complex is monomorphic.
  3. Consider antiarrhythmic infusions: Administer medications such as procainamide, amiodarone, or sotalol IV based on patient factors and clinical context.
Procainamide: 20-50 mg/min IV until arrhythmia is suppressed, hypotension occurs, QRS duration increases by >50%, or the maximum dose of 17 mg/kg is reached.
Amiodarone: 150 mg IV over 10 minutes, followed by a maintenance infusion if necessary.
Sotalol: 100 mg (1.5 mg/kg) IV over 5 minutes; avoid using in patients with a prolonged QT interval.

4. Seek expert consultation: Consult a cardiologist or electrophysiologist for further guidance on managing the patient's tachycardia, particularly if the rhythm is complex or if the initial ACLS tachycardia algorithm treatments are ineffective.

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Synchronized Cardioversion Energy Levels

Rhythm Category Example Rhythms QRS Administer
Narrow Regular Sinus Tachycardia, Atrial flutter < 0.12 seconds 50–100 Joules for synchronized cardioversion
Narrow Irregular Atrial fibrillation, Multifocal atrial tachycardia < 0.12 seconds 120-200 Joules for synchronized cardioversion
Wide Regular Ventricular tachycardia, Supraventricular tachycardia with aberrancy ≥ 0.12 seconds 100 Joules for synchronized cardioversion
Wide Irregular Polymorphic ventricular tachycardia, Atrial fibrillation with bundle branch block ≥ 0.12 seconds 120-200 Joules with NO synchronized cardioversion

When performing synchronized cardioversion, it is crucial to ensure proper synchronization with the patient's QRS complex. This will prevent shock delivery during the vulnerable period of the cardiac cycle, which can lead to ventricular fibrillation. Always confirm that the cardioversion is synchronized, as indicated by the monitor, before proceeding.


Understanding the ACLS tachycardia algorithm is crucial for healthcare professionals. By following the guidelines provided in this ultimate guide, healthcare providers can effectively manage and treat patients with tachycardia, ensuring the best possible outcomes.

Whether you need to obtain a BLS, PALS, or ACLS certification, ProMed can help you out. With our fully online review material and mobile-friendly platform, you can get your provider card in under an hour!