What is Arrhythmia in Children?

Arrhythmia is an irregular or abnormally fast or slow heartbeat. Arrhythmias can range from mild and harmless to life-threatening and require careful monitoring. Parents need to be aware that arrhythmias can occur in children and to seek medical attention if their child is displaying any symptoms. Early diagnosis and treatment are essential to ensure good outcomes for the child.

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A young African American toddler smilingWhat Causes Arrhythmia?

Arrhythmia can be caused by a variety of factors, including:

  • Medications
  • Congenital heart disease
  • Congenital heart conditions
  • Electrolyte imbalances
  • Low potassium levels
  • Electrolyte disturbances
  • Environmental factors
  • Genetics
  • Structural heart defects
  • Valve problems
  • Abnormalities of the electrical system of the heart
  • Defect in the size, shape, or walls of the heart

CHRISTUS Children's - The Heart Center

CHRISTUS Children's specializes in pediatric care for infants, children and adolescents as well as maternal and fetal care for women with high-risk and routine pregnancies. From birth to age 18, CHRISTUS Children’s provides comprehensive, coordinated care from a team of pediatric and maternal experts.

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Are There Different Types of Arrhythmias for Children? 

There are many different kinds of arrhythmias in children including atrial, ventricular and Bradyarrhythmias including:

  • Supraventricular tachycardia is characterized by a rapid heart rate that begins in the upper chambers of the heart
  • Premature atrial contractions (PACs) when early beats are detected in the atria
  • Atrial fibrillation is rare among children but can be diagnosed in infants and older children experiencing an abnormally rapid heart rate.
  • Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome 
  • Premature ventricular contractions, ventricular tachycardia, ventricular fibrillation
  • Bradyarrhythmias include sinus dysfunction and heart blockage.

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Arrhythmias in Children? 

Common signs of arrhythmia in children include: 

  • Heart palpitations which may cause trouble sleeping
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Dizziness, lightheadedness, fainting
  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sweating or clammy skin 
  • Discomfort in the chest that feels like butterflies or a fish flopping around 

What are the Risk Factors for Arrhythmia in Children?

  • Congenital heart defects: Structural abnormalities present at birth such as sepal defects or abnormal connections between arteries and veins. 
  • Overactive thyroid: Hyperthyroidism can lead to a rapid heart rate, causing arrhythmia. 
  • Certain medications: Certain medications such as antihistamines, decongestants, or cold medicines may increase the risk of arrhythmia in children.  
  • Stress and emotional trauma: High stress can trigger arrhythmia in some children. 
  • Genetics: Certain genetic conditions can increase the risk of arrhythmias such as long QT syndrome or Brugada Syndrome.  

A father helping his son take his first stepsHow Will a Doctor Diagnose Arrhythmia? 

Diagnosis of arrhythmia in children typically begins with a physical exam and medical history. The doctor may order an electrocardiogram (ECG) to measure the heart's electrical activity. Echocardiogram is used to look for any structural or functional abnormalities. If necessary, other tests such as cardiac MRI or cardiac catheterization may be performed. 

In some cases, a Holter monitor or an event recorder can be used to record the heart’s rhythm over a period of time.  Depending on the results of these tests, further treatments such as medications or surgery may be recommended.  

What Treatments are Available for Children?

The treatment for arrhythmia in children depends on the type and severity of the condition. Depending on the type and severity of a child’s arrhythmia, doctors will recommend various treatment options including:

  • Lifestyle changes such as reducing stress and avoiding caffeine
  • Medications such as beta blockers, calcium channel blockers and anti-arrhythmic drugs
  • Cardioversion – a small electrical shock that stops rapid heartbeats
  • Ablation in which a small tube in placed in the heart to heat or freeze the tissue near the arrhythmia
  • Pacemaker – a small device placed under the skin that can regulate a slow heartbeat
  • Implantable cardioverter defibrillator – similar to a pacemaker, an ICD sends a mild electrical shock to slow a fast heartbeat