Without further ado...
You respond to a call-out for "palpitations." You arrive on-scene to find a middle-age female patient who is awake, well-oriented, and talking to you in complete sentences. She is complaining of her heart "fluttering," and reports feeling somewhat short of breath and anxious. She reports a prior history of palpitations without a clear working diagnosis. Cardiac leads are placed, and the monitor shows a well-organized narrow-complex rhythm with rate in the 160s. Her BP is stable. Her skin appears warm and well-perfused. As the EMT's are working on establishing IV access, you wonder how effective vagal maneuvers are in terminating SVT.
Which vagal maneuver, if any, should be used to terminate SVT?
In two studies, the authors found that the valsalva maneuver was more successful in terminating SVT than carotid massage or ice-to-face. In one case series, valsalva was able to terminate SVT in 54% of patients. These study authors also found that a right carotid massage was slightly more efficacious than a left carotid massage in terminating SVT (17% vs 5%). Attempting to provoke the diving reflex with ice had the same efficacy as the right carotid massage (17%)1.
A second study of prehospital treatment of SVT found that valsalva was more efficacious if the patient was supine, the maneuver was sustained for 15 seconds, and a pressure of 40mm Hg was obtained. The study again found that valsalva was more successful than carotid sinus massage and the ice-to-the face technique2.
In a third study, there was a trend toward valsalva being more effective than carotid sinus massage. Valsalva had a success rate of 19.4% vs 10.5% for carotid sinus massage, though these figures did not reach statistical significance. When initial carotid massage did not resolve the SVT, valsalva was able to convert in 16.9% cases, versus 14% when carotid massage was used after failed valsalva. Overall, the conversion rate was 27.7%3.
Valsalva maneuver is inherently safer than a carotid massage, as there is no risk of causing decreased carotid perfusion or dislodging clot. The most difficult part is ensuring full patient participation, especially in pediatric patients. One method that has been suggested to promote valsalva in pediatric patients is asking the child to blow through a straw. Several reports also suggest that valsalva maneuver is more efficacious than carotid massage in terminating SVT. There is also limited data to suggest that a right carotid massage is better than a left carotid massage. Given that Valsalva is safer and may be more efficacious, attempts at terminating SVT should begin with Valsalva.
Take home points:
- In available reports, valsalva maneuver appears to be the most efficacious of vagal maneuvers in terminating SVT. It may be effective anywhere from 20-50% of the time.
1. Mehta D, Wafa S, Ward DE, Camm AJ. Relative efficacy of various physical manoeuvres in the termination of junctional tachycardia. Lancet. 1988;1(8596):1181.
2. Smith G, Morgans A, Boyel M. Use of the Valsalva manoeuvre in the prehospital setting: a review of the literature. Emerg Med J. 2009 Jan;26(1):8-10
3. Lim SH, Anantharaman V, Teo WS, Goh PP, Tan AT. Comparison of treatment of supraventricular tachycardia by Valsalva maneuver and carotid sinus massage. Ann Emerg Med. 1998 Jan;31(1):30-35
Contributed by Steven Hung, PGY-2