Story by: Chris L. Johnsrude, M.D. on March 27, 2019
Supraventricular tachycardia (SVT) isn’t life-threatening for otherwise healthy children if they receive proper care. Infants and children with various types of other heart disease are most at risk of fast heartbeats due to SVT.
SVT treatment includes short-term methods to stop the episode, and long-term treatment to prevent future spells.
There are a few ways a parent or caregiver can provide SVT treatment at home, and these involve stimulating the vagus nerve to return the heart rate back to normal. If your child looks ill during SVT or SVT doesn’t stop with these methods, your child will need care from a professional health care provider. Speak with your cardiologist about guidelines for when to seek emergency care.
A cold ice pack to the face (may take two adults to do this in infants or young children)
Practice these with your child he or she isn’t having SVT symptoms so the child is prepared and more cooperative if one of these steps is needed.
In some cases, no long-term treatment is needed as long as the patient and family know how to recognize SVT, can try any of the home remedies and have discussed with their cardiologist scenarios that would lead to an emergency department visit.
Read more: How to spot supraventricular tachycardia in your child
In many cases, the cardiologist will recommend medication or a procedure to correct the issue.
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There are numerous medications that are usually helpful in preventing SVT recurrence. Medications like digoxin or a beta blocker can be given to older, otherwise healthy children as an outpatient. Some patients will be hospitalized and monitored closely when starting medication, especially very young children, very sick children or at any age when starting one of the other more potent medications.
If SVT continues to be a problem, the cardiologist will often recommend the child undergo a catheter-based procedure that can usually cure the underlying cause of the SVT. The procedure includes an electrophysiology study to understand or diagnose the specific type of SVT, followed by catheter ablation which can eliminate the cause of SVT. A specially trained cardiologist (called an electrophysiologist) threads catheters (thin wires) through the blood vessels up to the heart to accomplish these procedures.
Chris L. Johnsrude, M.D., is an associate professor in the University of Louisville Department of Pediatrics and serves as director of the pediatric arrhythmia service at Norton Children’s Hospital.