Multifocal Atrial Tachycardia: Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis & Treatment

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Multifocal atrial tachycardia occurs when there are too many electrical impulses sent to the lower heart from the upper heart. It is a type of rapid heart rate. Patient’s may experience 100 to 250 beats per minute. The normal range for an adult ranges from approximately 60 to 100 beats per minute. If the heart is beating too fast, it cannot distribute the right amount of blood throughout the body because it will not have enough time to fill with blood.


This condition is most often seen in those 50 and older. It is diagnosed most often in those with medical conditions that lower blood-oxygen levels, such as:

  • Bacterial pneumonia
  • Congestive heart failure
  • Lung failure
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
  • Lung cancer
  • Pulmonary embolism

Conditions that may increase risk include:

  • Coronary heart disease
  • Surgery within previous six months
  • Sepsis
  • Diabetes
  • Theophylline overdose

Signs and Symptoms

Patients with multifocal atrial tachycardia may experience several different symptoms. These may include:

  • Chest tightness
  • Fainting
  • Shortness of breath
  • Lightheadedness
  • Heart palpitations
  • Failure to thrive in infants
  • Weight loss

Other possible symptoms include:

  • Dizziness
  • When lying down, breathing may be difficult


Diagnosis usually begins with an examination in which the doctor is looking for 100 to 180 beats per minute, signs or poor circulation, and low to normal blood pressure. Electrophysiology studies or an electrocardiogram may also be performed. Heart monitors may be given to the patient to help record their rapid heart beat. A 24 Holter monitor is commonly used, as is a portable, long-term loop recorders that lets patients record when they are experiencing symptoms. If the patient is currently staying in the hospital, they will have their heart rhythm monitored all day long.


If a patient has an underlying condition that is causing the problem, their doctor will treat this first. Once the underlying condition is under control, or if the patient only has this condition, techniques to improve the patient’s blood-oxygen levels are normally done. Once this is completed, administering intravenous magnesium is often done. If a patient is taking certain medications known to increase heart rate, such as theophylline, these medications are normally stopped or replaced if necessary.

Certain medications are effective in slowing down rapid heart rate. These include some beta-blockers and calcium channel blockers. These medications may be given both short-term or long-term depending on the patient’s needs.

This condition is often able to be controlled as long as the underlying condition is under control and treated.


University of Maryland Medical Center. (2008). Multifocal Atrial Tachycardia – Overview. Retrieved on December 22, 2010 from the University of Maryland Medical Center:

MedlinePlus. (2010). Multifocal Atrial Tachycardia. Retrieved on December 22, 2010 from MedlinePlus: